This colorful planetary nebula with the designation of NGC 6326 is located approximately 11,000 light years from the Earth and lies in the constellation of Ara. Unlike many planetary nebulae that display symmetrical shapes, NGC 6326 has a complex, irregular, structure. When aging stars reach the final stages of their red giant phase they begin ejecting the outer layers of their atmospheres. The nebula we observe is made up of this ejected material. This process continues until all that is left is the hot, dense, core of the dying star. Intense radiation from this core excites the gas in the nebula causing it to shine in much the same way as the excited gas shines in a neon sign. According to recent scientific study, the central star is actually a close binary system with an orbital period of .372 days. (9h 56m) The binary nature was first revealed spectroscopically and later the orbital period was established by photometric measurements.
The image was assembled from data obtained from the Hubble Legacy Archive.
1Based on observations made with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, and obtained from the Hubble Legacy Archive, which is a collaboration between the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI/NASA), the Space Telescope European Coordinating Facility (ST-ECF/ESA) and the Canadian Astronomy Data Centre (CADC/NRC/CSA).