Image: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt.

Behold WR 31a, a massive star surrounded by a rapidly expanding cloud of gas and dust. This gorgeous celestial structure emerged just 20,000 years ago, and is currently growing at a rate of 136,700 miles every hour.

WR 31a is a Wolf-Rayet (WR) star located about 30,000 light-years from Earth. These stars are particularly large, with masses typically reaching 20 times that of our Sun. The characteristic blue bubble surrounding the object is a Wolf-Rayet nebula comprised of dust, hydrogen, helium, and other gases. These objects, which are frequently ring-shaped or spherical, appear when rapid stellar winds come into contact with the hydrogen spewing out from WR stars.

ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt.

This spectacular image of WR 31a was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and released just today.

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WR stars only last a few hundred thousand years, an achingly brief sliver of time in cosmological terms. Our Sun, for example, is already 4.5 billion years old and is expected to live another 5 billion more. WR stars typically lose about half their mass in less than 100,000 years. Eventually, this star will go supernova, expelling its stellar material back into the cosmos where it will fuel the next generation of stars and planets.

[NASA]

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