|Butterfly in the sky.....but why? It is thought that this intriguing
shape was formed by two different processes. First of all there are
two stars that play the "starring" role. This pair used to orbit one
another at a casual distance- but then one of them evolved into a red
giant star and enveloped the other one. This means the swallowed star orbited
inside of the red giant! This process both caused the two to move close
together and eject a ring of gas in the process. Then strong winds from
the stars blew gas perpendicular to the ring to form the wings of the
"butterfly." Currently these two stars are so close they orbit each other in
a period of 16 days. NGC 2346 is between 2-3 thousand light years away
(and perhaps 1/2 light year in extent).
|L R G B color production was used to create this image.|
Minimum credit line: Doug Matthews and Charles Betts/Adam Block/NOAO/AURA/NSF
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