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Hubble sees the shimmering wings of a space butterfly

The Twin Jet Nebula looks like a cosmic butterfly -- its shining wings glowing with iridescent colors -- in a new Hubble Space Telescope image.

The Twin Jet Nebula spreads its space wings. ESA/Hubble & NASA. Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt

There's a winged creature expanding far away in the universe. A two-lobed nebula blossoms outward from a central star system. Jets of gas extend in elongated bubbles.

The Hubble Space Telescope took a look at the remarkable Twin Jet Nebula and returned an image that looks like a shimmering and ethereal butterfly. The European Space Agency released the picture Wednesday.

We've seen the Twin Jet Nebula before, but not with the sort of clarity this new image offers. The nebula was originally spotted by an astronomer in 1947 and sports the official name PN M2-9. The popular "Twin Jet" name is much more evocative of the way this space formation looks. "If the nebula is sliced across the star, each side of it appears much like a pair of exhausts from jet engines," the ESA says.

Scientists believe the lobes were formed just 1,200 years ago. "The glowing and expanding shells of gas clearly visible in this image represent the final stages of life for an old star of low to intermediate mass," notes the ESA.

Take a close look at the image and you'll see streams of blue-colored material inside the lobes near the center. The ESA describes these as "violent twin jets streaming out into space, at speeds in excess of 1 million kilometers per hour." That's over 621,000 miles per hour, which should earn the nebula a space speeding ticket.

A binary star system sits at the center of the nebula, placing it into a classification known as bipolar nebulae. It's one of many spectacular images captured by Hubble over the years. The telescope was launched back in 1990, but it continues to deliver fresh views of our universe with ravishing nebulae photos leading the visual fireworks.