Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day we feature a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

November 2, 1995

The Red Rectangle
Credit: Anglo-Australian Telescope photograph by David Malin
Copyright: Anglo-Australian Telescope Board

Explanation: The unusual geometry of this stellar nebula creates somewhat of a mystery. At the nebula's center is a young binary star system that probably created the nebula, but how? This type of nebula shows a "bipolar flow" which carries a significant amount of mass away from the central stars. It has been speculated that the central stars create a pair of jets that precess like a spinning top. These jets might throw gas into a thick disk which we see here edge on - so that it appears to us as a rectangle. The nebula emission is also unusual in that some of the infrared light it emits might be associated with unusual carbon-containing molecules.

Tomorrow's picture: Jupiter's Moon Amalthea

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (GMU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA).
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