ESA/Hubble and NASA

Hubble just snapped one of the best pictures of the mysterious 'Red Rectangle' nebula

A star on its death bed.

JOSH HRALA
12 APR 2016
 

Though you probably never give it much thought, almost everything in space is round. From planets and stars to black holes and comets, everything is spherical or rounded in some way, thanks to the pull of gravity. But then there’s the 'Red Rectangle', a system some 2,300 light-years away from Earth that looks, at first glance, like a giant square in the sky.

For years, researchers have rightfully wondered what's causing the Red Rectangle's unique, mysterious shape, and now, thanks to the Hubble telescope, we finally have a clear picture of the anomaly that reveals it's actually a binary system shooting off dust in the shape of an "X".

 

Yup, according to NASA, the Red Rectangle is a proto-planetary nebula, which means that the system’s star, dubbed HD 44179, is nearing the end of its life, and is on its way to becoming a white dwarf.

To get to that stage, though, the star first ejects gas into space, and since HD 44179 is a close binary system, it ejects this gas in strange ways that, over time, formed into an X shape.  

To capture the image, Hubble researchers exposed for different wavelengths to see exactly what was going on inside the nebula.

"Red light from glowing hydrogen was captured through the F658N filter and coloured red," explains the team. "Orange-red light over a wider range of wavelengths through a F625W filter was coloured blue."

While researchers are excited to finally have an answer that explains why the Red Rectangle looks the way it does, for the rest of us, the newly released image shows us what will eventually happen to the Sun. As it ages, it will eventually start shedding its mass on its way to becoming a white dwarf.

The good news is that this isn’t going to happen anytime soon. 

So, in a way, the image is a portal to the future that allows us to see our Solar System 5.4 billion years from now, except ours won’t take a square shape, so enjoy this one while you can.

More From ScienceAlert

Will Earth still exist in 5 billion years?

Lessons from a twin solar system.

13 hours ago