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Giant ’soap bubble’ floating in space

india Updated: Jul 24, 2009 16:55 IST

Astronomers in the United States have discovered giant “soap bubble” floating in space, the New Scientist has reported.
Dave Jurasevich of the Mount Wilson Observatory in California spotted the “Cygnus Bubble” while recording images of the region on 6 July 2008, the report said, adding that another amateur astronomers Mel Helm and Keith Quattrocchi also found it a few days later.

The bubble, which was officially named PN G75.5+1.7 last week, has been there a while, the report said. It looks like a “soap bubble” or perhaps even a camera fault, but the image at right is a newly discovered planetary nebula.

“It’s a beautiful example,” said Adam Frank of the University of Rochester, New York. “Spherical ones are very rare,” he underlined.

Planetary nebulae, which got their name after being misidentified by early astronomers, are formed when an ageing star weighing up to eight times the mass of the sun ejects its outer layers as clouds of luminous gas. Most are elliptical, double-lobed or cigar-shaped, evolving after stars eject gas from each pole.

A closer look at images from the second Palomar Sky Survey revealed it had the same size and brightness 16 years ago. Jurasevich thinks it was overlooked because it is very faint. An explanation is that the image is looking down the throat of a typical cylindrical nebula. However, it is still remarkably symmetrical, Frank said.