he images: A team of NASA astronomers has revealed dazzling new photographs taken with the powerful Chandra X-Ray satellite. The images focus on the violent death of nearby stars before they transform into nebulae. When a star like our sun runs out of hydrogen, it sheds its outer gas layers and expands into a red dwarf hundreds of times its size, engulfing nearby planets in the process. What's left behind is a searing hot core that contracts into a white dwarf, forcibly ejecting its atmosphere to create the "graceful, shell-like filamentary" seen in the images below, says NASA. Finally, the star becomes a glowing pink nebula like the Cat's Eye (NGC 6543), NGC 7662, NGC 7009, and NGC 6826 pictured below.
The reaction: For the better part of a decade, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory "has been pumping back images of the universe captured at wavelengths invisible to the human eye," says Colin Schultz at Smithsonian. These images are actually composites stitched together from the Chandra and Hubble telescopes: The "amorphous pink blobs at the center" are the X-rays taken by Chandra, while the other parts are from the optical view of the Hubble. "Glorious." Indeed. The "amazing glowing nebulae" actually resemble quite the piece of "cosmic candy," says Space.com. All the examples pictured here are relatively close — within 5,000 light-years of Earth — but thankfully, our own sun won't produce its own nebulae for another few billion years. Take a look:
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