Hubble shows Red Rectangle nebula details

By ANDREW BRIDGES
AP SCIENCE WRITER
From: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com

May 11, 2004.

The nebula called the ``Red Rectangle,'' one of the most unusual celestial bodies in the galaxy, is shown in this image created from observations by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope taken on March 17-18,1999, and was released Tuesday, May 11, 2004. The detail from the Hubble image shows the twin stars at the nebula's core ejecting conelike streams of gas and dust outward in opposing directions, producing a distinctive rung-like pattern. Astronomers know of no other nebula like it in the universe. (AP Photo/NASA, HO)

The nebula called the ``Red Rectangle,'' one of the most unusual celestial bodies in the galaxy, is shown in this image created from observations by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope taken on March 17-18,1999, and was released Tuesday, May 11, 2004. The detail from the Hubble image shows the twin stars at the nebula's core ejecting conelike streams of gas and dust outward in opposing directions, producing a distinctive rung-like pattern. Astronomers know of no other nebula like it in the universe. (AP Photo/NASA, HO)
LOS ANGELES -- A sharp new image of the brilliant nebula called the "Red Rectangle" reveals it looks more like a ladder with a giant X through it.

The new image of one of the most unusual celestial bodies in the galaxy was created from observations by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1999 and was released Tuesday.

The nebula was discovered in the early 1970s. Astronomers promptly nicknamed it "Red Rectangle."

But the vivid detail from the Hubble image shows the twin stars at the nebula's core ejecting conelike streams of gas and dust outward in opposing directions, producing a distinctive rung-like pattern. Astronomers know of no other nebula like it in the universe.

"The structure of the Red Rectangle revealed by Hubble is surprisingly complex. The features that impress me most look like the rungs of a ladder, although they are actually gas cones, like a series of nested wine glasses filled to their brim with gas and seen from the side," said Hans Van Winckel of the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium.

Winckel and his colleagues published details of their observations in the April issue of The Astronomical Journal.

The twin stars at the heart of the Red Rectangle, formally known as HD 44179, are dying. As they die, they continue to eject their outer layers into space to form the visible nebula, astronomers said.

The nebula lies 2,300 light-years from Earth, toward the constellation Monoceros.

Astronomers rely on Hubble to make observations that are impossible to make from Earth.

But the future of the space-based telescope is unclear: NASA has canceled human missions to service the observatory. Unless a robotic mission can be substituted to carry out needed repairs and upgrades, Hubble will take its last picture in 2007 or 2008.