The Hubble Space Telescope turns its eye to the Little Gem for a fresh look at one of the prettiest nebulae in space.
There's a jewel tucked far away in space in the constellation Sagittarius. The Little Gem Nebula formed about 3,500 years ago and gets its nickname from its resemblance to a colorful bauble. The European Space Agency highlighted it as a Space Science Image of the Week on Monday.
Scientists used a new mix of color filters to make the nebula's ethereal characteristics pop compared with an earlier Hubble image from 1997.
The Little Gem Nebula is also known by the less evocative name "NGC 6818." The ESA notes that "the nebula material is still close enough to its parent star for the ultraviolet radiation the star releases to ionise the dusty gas and make it glow."
The ESA explains the nebula's distinctly oval innards: "Scientists believe the star also releases a high-speed flow of particles -- a stellar wind -- that is responsible for the oval shape of the inner region of the nebula."
Artist Judy Schmidt enhanced the original space telescope image for a Hubble image-processing competition. The Little Gem fits in well with an illustrious series of Hubble nebula images that includes the Twin Jet, the Crab, the Lagoon and the Cat's Eye.