According to the US “Space” website, NGC 246 is a planetary nebula consisting of a pair of closely related stars orbiting around a third outer star.
The Skull Nebula
The nebula is the dusty remnant of a stellar explosion, during which a sunlike star expels its outer layers, leaving behind a glowing white dwarf star.
This bright white dwarf is one of the two stars that can be seen in the center of NGC 246, however, the white dwarf also has a dark red dwarf star that cannot be seen in the new ESO image.
These two stars orbit each other as a binary pair, which in turn revolves around a third star at a distance of about 1900 times the distance between the earth and the sun.
These three stars establish NGC 246 as the first known planetary nebula with a hierarchical three-star system at its center.
The new image was also captured with FOcal Reducer and Spectrograph 2 or FORS2, an instrument installed on Antu, one of the VLT telescopes at Paranal Observatory.
The new shape of the Skull Nebula shows clouds of gas and dust engorged in the color of blood that remained from the stellar explosion, and the hydrogen (red) and oxygen (light blue) gases in the nebula appear to glow, illuminating the face of the skull against the dark background of interstellar space.
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