Astronomers may not have observed the fabled ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ but they have photographed something almost as intriguing: ladder-like structures surrounding a dying star.
This image, taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, reveals startling new details of one of the most unusual nebulae known in our galaxy. Catalogued as HD 44179, this nebula is more commonly called the ‘Red Rectangle’ because of its unique shape and colour as seen with ground-based telescopes. The image was made from observations taken on 17-18 March 1999 with Hubble?s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2.
Hubble has revealed a wealth of new features in the Red Rectangle that cannot be seen by ground-based telescopes looking through the Earth?s turbulent atmosphere. Details of the Hubble study were published in the April 2004 issue of The Astronomical Journal.
Hans Van Winckel (Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium), the principal investigator for the Hubble observations, says: ?The structure of the Red Rectangle revealed by Hubble is surprisingly complex. The features that impress me most look like the rungs of a ladder, although they are actually projections of gas cones, like a series of nested wine glasses filled to their brim with gas and seen from the side.?
Would Led Zeppelin approve?