Stare into the bright heart of the blue bubble nebula

A gossamer-blue bubble surrounds a hot, short-lived star and Hubble is there to witness the celestial beauty.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read

The Hubble space telescope has delivered quite a few spectacular nebulae shots over the years. We've seen a lagoon, a butterfly, a prawn and the moving "Pillars of Creation." We can now add an ethereal blue bubble to the cast list of Hubble space stunners.

The bubble surrounds a star named WR 31a, which lives in the constellation of Carina. Carina means "keel" in Latin, as in the keel of a ship. It was originally part of a larger constellation named Argo Navis after the mythological ship from the story of Jason and the Argonauts. NASA highlighted the image on Friday.

WR 31a is located around 30,000 light-years away from Earth. It's classified as a Wolf-Rayet star and the bubble is a Wolf-Rayet nebula. According to NASA, Wolf-Rayet stars can be about 20 times as massive as our sun. These stars are intensely hot and they "blast substantial winds of particles out into space, causing them to dwindle at a rapid rate," giving them short life spans.

Blue Bubble
Enlarge Image
Blue Bubble

This blue bubble haunts a star in space.

ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt

"The bubble -- estimated to have formed around 20,000 years ago -- is expanding at a rate of around 220,000 kilometers (136,700 miles) per hour!" NASA notes with enthusiasm. The space agency describes the material making up the bubble as "an interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen, helium and other gases."

The blue bubble nebula surrounding the star is a beautiful view for now, but WR 31a is destined to become a supernova relatively soon on the time scale of our universe. But don't weep for the blue bubble. NASA points out that the final explosion at the end of the star's life will end up feeding new planets and stars and continuing the cosmic circle of life.

Hubble wows with stunning space images

See all photos