A fleeting moment in time

The faint, ephemeral glow emanating from the planetary nebula ESO 577-24 persists for only around 10,000 years, a blink of an eye in astronomical terms. 

The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope captured this shell of glowing ionised gas — the last breath of the dying star whose simmering remains are visible at the heart of the image. As the gaseous shell expands and grows dimmer, it will slowly disappear from sight.

One of the VLT’s most versatile instruments, FORS2, captured the bright, central star, Abell 36, as well as the surrounding planetary nebula. The red and blue portions of this image correspond to optical emission at red and blue wavelengths, respectively.

An asteroid wandering across the field of view has left a faint track below and to the left of the central star, and in the far distance, behind the nebula, a host of background galaxies can be seen.

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