NGC 2818 is one of very few planetary nebulae in our galaxy located within an open cluster. Open clusters, in general, are loosely bound and they disperse over hundreds of millions of years. Stars that form planetary nebulae typically live for billions of years. Hence, it is rare that an open cluster survives long enough for one of its members to form a planetary nebula. This open cluster is particularly ancient, estimated to be nearly one billion years old.
Planetary nebulae can have extremely varied structures. NGC 2818 has a complex shape that is difficult to interpret. However, because of its location within the cluster, astronomers have access to information about the nebula, such as its age and distance, which might not otherwise be known.
Planetary nebulae fade away gradually over tens of thousands of years. The hot, remnant stellar core of NGC 2818 will eventually cool off for billions of years as a white dwarf. Our own sun will undergo a similar process, but not for another 5 billion years or so.
This Hubble image was taken in November 2008 with the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2. The colors in the image represent a range of emissions coming from the clouds of the nebula: red represents nitrogen, green represents hydrogen, and blue represents oxygen.
Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
For images and more information about NGC 2818, visit:http://hubblesite.org/news/2009/05
STScI is an International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA 2009) program partner.
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