How was the unusual Red Rectangle nebula created?
At the nebula's center is an aging
binary star system
that surely powers the nebula but does not, as yet, explain its colors.
The unusual shape of the
is likely due to a thick dust torus which pinches the otherwise spherical
outflow into tip-touching
Because we view the torus edge-on, the boundary edges of the
seem to form an X.
The distinct rungs suggest the outflow occurs in fits and starts.
The unusual colors of the nebula are
less well understood, however, and
speculation holds that they are partly provided by
hydrocarbon molecules that may actually be
building blocks for organic life.
The Red Rectangle nebula lies about 2,300 light years away
the constellation of the Unicorn (Monoceros).
The nebula is shown above in great detail as
image from Hubble Space Telescope.
In a few million years, as one of the central stars becomes
further depleted of nuclear fuel, the Red Rectangle nebula will likely bloom into a
Hubble Legacy Archive