Image Credit & Copyright: Travis Rector/NOAO/Kitt Peak 4 meter telescope.
Planetary nebula SH2-68 or as it’s also known the Flaming Skull Nebula (for obvious reasons) is an interesting nebula who, as all planetary nebula is a star that’s reaching the end of the galactic road and has begun to die. As material is released into the universe the now exposed inner layers of the star radiate incredible levels of ultraviolet radiation causing the entire structure to glow.
The awesome feature here is that this entire structure is moving through the galaxy at a rapid pace, that’s what gives this planetary this very odd shape that we see. The expansion of the expelled material has been halted by interstellar interaction. The orange color in the photo is the result of interaction with gasses and material in the Milky Way galaxy while the blue color-are the emissions from the planetary nebula itself. Astronomers aren’t sure but it’s believed that the dim blue star near the center is the progenitor star. Another theory is that the star in the center is not the progenitor star as it has continued on while the planetary nebula slowed due to galactic interaction.
NAME: SH2-68, Sharpless 68, Flaming Skull Nebula.
WHAT IS IT?: Planetary Nebula that is moving through space.
HOW BIG IS IT?: 8’X8’ arcminutes on the night sky.
HOW FAR AWAY IS IT?: Estimates place it around 350 parsecs or 1000 light years distant.
HOW OLD IS IT?: Approximately 45,000 years old.
APPARENT MAGNITUDE: A VERY dim 16 or +16.
WHERE IS IT? (General): Constellation Serpens Cauda (The Serpent’s Tail).
WHERE IS IT? (Exact RA/DEC J2000): RA 18h 24m 58.41s / DEC +00d 51’ 35.9”.
Travis Rector page for this object: http://aftar.uaa.alaska.edu/gallery/details.cfm?img=340
National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) page for this object: http://www.noao.edu/image_gallery/html/im1164.html
SIMBAD data for this object: http://simbad.u-strasbg.fr/simbad/sim-id?Ident=SH2-68