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Are These the Gates of Heaven or a Deep Space Lighthouse?

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It's always the same. Just when I'm thinking that I couldn't be surprised by the Hubble Space Telescope anymore, it captures another image that leaves me in awe. Like this searchlight-like beams in space. It's what I'd imagine the doors to heaven would look like if I believed in such things.

Or maybe a deep space lighthouse. But in reality, this spectacular display of light and dust is the Egg Nebula, about 3,000 light-years from Earth. It's a protoplanetary nebula, meaning that there are no planets forming yet, just an aging star exciting its own material remains around it.

These formations are quite unique in the sky because, according to NASA, their "short lifespan of preplanetary nebulae means there are relatively few of them in existence at any one time." It's the best view we have got to date, after it was discovered less than 40 years ago. NASA says that many aspects of these formations are still a mystery to be solved by astronomers:

At the center of this image, and hidden in a thick cloud of dust, is the nebula's central star. While we can't see the star directly, four searchlight beams of light coming from it shine out through the nebula. It is thought that ring-shaped holes in the thick cocoon of dust, carved by jets coming from the star, let the beams of light emerge through the otherwise opaque cloud. The precise mechanism by which stellar jets produce these holes is not known for certain, but one possible explanation is that a binary star system, rather than a single star, exists at the center of the nebula.


Those layers that seem to form a portal to another dimension are actually layers of material ejected by the dying star every hundred years. [NASA Goddard]