Hubble Returns to Service and Provides a Stunning Glimpse of The Eskimo Nebula

By Keith Cowing
January 24, 2000
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Eskimo Nebula

[24 Jan 2000] In 1994, just after corrective optics were placed on the Hubble Space Telescope to correct a design flaw, NASA released a stunning new view of Galaxy M100 to show off Hubble’s true capabilities. Since that time not a week hasn’t gone by without something marvelous released by the Space Telescope Science Institute – except during the Fall of 1999 when Hubble orbited dormant after a gyroscope failed. Once again, NASA has kept to its tradition of using stunning new pictures to herald a new phase in Hubble’s mission.

Detail of Eskimo Nebula
One of the pictures chosen this time was of NGC 2392 , the “Eskimo Nebula” (also know as the “Clownface Nebula”) a planetary nebula located in the constellation Gemini.

The term “planetary” nebula is somewhat misleading and is a relic from the early days of telescopic astronomy. This ‘planetary’ nebula is actually the remnants of a cataclysmic stellar explosion.

In a planetary nebula, stellar explosions cause gas and debris to expand outward in a roughly spherical shell, with light and high energy radiation being refracted and absorbed by these materials causing different portions to glow in a wide array of colors. In a small telescope they look like planets, hence the name. These nebulae often take on additional names, ones that describe what the nebula looks like.

Detail of Eskimo NebulaIn the case of NGC 2392, first observed and cataloged by William Herschel (discoverer of the planet Uranus) in 1787, it seems that there was a hung jury i.e. “clown” vs “eskimo”.

With the unprecedented increase in detail provided by this image, a curious ring of comet-shaped clumps (much larger than comets though) can be seen which seem to ring the central star at roughly the same distance. Astronomers are not quite sure that these features are or how they formed, but speculate that this could be the collision of materials moving outward at high velocity colliding with materials moving outwards at a lower (relative) velocity.

° Higher resolution image of the Eskimo Nebula

° Hubble Opens its Eye on the Universe and Captures a Cosmic Magnifying Glass , press release

° Hubble Reopens Eye on the Universe, press release

° Picture Perfect: Hubble’s New Improved Optics Probe the Core of a Distant Galaxy, press release January 1994

° The Web Nebula Glossary, SEDS

° Eskimo Nebula telescope images, SEDS

° Ground-based telescope image of the Eskimo Nebula, University of Michigan

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.