Friday, December 23, 2011

WISE Says 'Merry Christmas' With a Nebulous Wreath

Dec. 23, 2011 -- NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) is getting into a festive mood this Christmas after imaging a beautiful nebula called Barnard 3, or IRAS Ring G159.6-18.5. Nicknamed the "Wreath Nebula" by mission scientists, Bernard 3 does have some familiarity with the green and red wreath hanging peacefully on your neighbor's door. But looks can be deceiving.

From 1,000 light years away, this nebula looks peaceful and serene, but it is actually the site of savage stellar winds blasting from the central bright star called HD 278942. These blizzard-esque winds have shaped the warm dust into a wreath-like ring, while the luminous star is likely the only energy source causing the ring to glow in infrared wavelengths (green).

The central red glow is most likely metal-rich gases being heated by HD 278942 -- if you use your imagination, this could resemble the red bow in the center of the wreath.

After adding a sprinkling of stars around the ring -- or, as mission scientists call them "silver bells" -- and you get a positively festive cosmic scene. Merry Christmas!


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