February 10, 2003: An aging star's last hurrah is creating a flurry of glowing knots of gas that appear to be streaking through space in this close-up image of the Dumbbell Nebula, taken with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. The Dumbbell, a nearby planetary nebula residing more than 1,200 light-years away, is the result of an old star that has shed its outer layers in a unique display of color.See the rest:
The Hubble image of the Dumbbell shows many knots, but their shapes vary. Some look like fingers pointing at the central star, located just off the upper left of the image; others are isolated clouds, with or without tails. Their sizes typically range from 11 - 35 billion miles (17 - 56 billion kilometers), which is several times larger than the distance from the Sun to Pluto. Each contains as much mass as three Earths.
Dense knots of gas and dust seem to be a natural part of a planetary nebula's evolution. They form in the early stages, and their shape changes as the nebula expands. Similar knots have been discovered in other nearby planetary nebulae. The detection of these knots in all the nearby planetaries imaged by the Hubble telescope allows astronomers to hypothesize that these glowing objects may be a common feature in all planetary nebulae.