From the November 2009 issue

The many shapes of planetary nebulae

Browse a sample of these interesting sky-targets, and then seek them out with your own telescope.
By | Published: November 23, 2009 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
January 2010  gallery-Bug Nebula
The Bug Nebula, NGC 6302, imaged with the Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA/ESA/Hubble SM4 ERO Team
Planetary nebulae offer a fascinating array of shapes and sizes for backyard observers armed with telescopes under a dark sky. They’re also fun to look at and understand if all you do is soak in the magnificent pictures shot by observatories over the past few years! These remnants of stars similar to the Sun are shells of gas cast off by the stars in their death throes. Several episodes of gas being “belched”off the parent star occur as the star’s life ends, creating a glowing set of shells surrounding the remnant. Further, the way the gas is ejected depends on the star’s physical nature, and so quite a few combinations of shapes can exist for planetaries. This gallery provides a sample of wonderfully shaped planetary nebulae and offers suggestions for some nice ones you can observe with a backyard telescope.

A gallery of Hubble Space Telescope planetaries