Another day, another incredible photograph of something cool occurring in space. Thanks to the Hubble Telescope, a gorgeous blue bubble surrounding a bright star that is 30,000 light years away from Earth in the constellation of Carina has been captured and documented in glorious photographic evidence. Let’s break down the spacey phenomenon occurring in the photo so you can totally school your friends when they inevitably Instagram this photo.
The star in question is WR 31a (catchy, right?) and the cosmic blue bubble that is surrounding it is known as a Wolf-Rayet nebula, which essentially is nothing more than a combination of gases and space dust. But for space meteorologists, they’re also known as interstellar clouds. These nebulas are formed when stellar winds interact with layers of hydrogen that have been ejected by Wolf-Rayet stars.
NASA researchers posit that this particular nebula was formed around 20,000 years ago and is expanding at an astonishing rate: 222,000 kilometers per hour! In terms of space-time and the circle of life in the cosmos, Wolf-Rayet stars burn bright and fast. They begin their life cycle with a mass 20 times larger than the Sun, but will lose more than half that mass in less than 100,000 years. After a couple hundred thousand years, these stars, including WR 31a, will explode into supernovas, creating a new line of stars, nebulas and planets. For now, we can all bask in the infancy of this Wolf-Rayet star and nebula, and watch it grow up before our very eyes.