These four planetary nebulae imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope all lie in our Milky Way Galaxy. Their distances from Earth are all roughly the same, about 7,000 light-years. The snapshots were taken with Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 in February 2007. Like snowflakes, planetary nebulae show a wide variety of shapes, indicative of the complex processes that occur at the end of stellar life.
He 2-47, at top, left, is dubbed the "starfish," because of its shape. The six lobes of gas and dust, which resemble the legs of a starfish, suggest that He 2-47 puffed off material at least three times in three different directions. Each time, the star fired off a narrow pair of opposite jets of gas. He 2-47 is in the southern constellation Carina.
IC 4593, at top, right, displays a prominent pair of jets on opposite sides of the dying star, ending in red knots of glowing nitrogen gas. IC 4593 is in the northern constellation Hercules.
NGC 5307, at bottom, left, displays a spiral pattern, which may have been caused by the dying star wobbling as it expelled jets of gas in different directions. NGC 5307 resides in the southern constellation Centaurus.
NGC 5315, the chaotic-looking nebula at bottom, right, reveals an x-shaped structure. This shape suggests that the star ejected material in two different outbursts in two distinct directions. Each outburst unleashed a pair of diametrically opposed outflows. NGC 5315 lies in the southern constellation Circinus.
This Hubble Heritage Team photo reflects a more artistic arrangement of the planetary nebulae.