This beautiful nebula holds a starry mystery at its heart

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In the heart of the stunning NGC 6164/6165 nebula, astronomers have uncovered a celestial anomaly: a pair of stars that defy expectations. Unlike typical stellar duos found within nebulae, these stars exhibit significant disparities in age and magnetic properties, shedding light on the dramatic events that shaped their cosmic surroundings.

Situated 3,800 light-years away, NGC 6164/6165, also known as the Dragon’s Egg, captivates with its ethereal beauty. However, it’s the peculiarities within this celestial spectacle that have intrigued researchers, prompting a closer investigation. Led by Abigail Frost of the European Southern Observatory in Chile, the team embarked on a quest to unravel the mysteries concealed within this cosmic gem.

Their findings, detailed in a study published in the journal Science, reveal a tale of stellar upheaval and cosmic evolution. Contrary to expectations, one of the stars within the nebula appears notably older than its companion, defying the conventional wisdom that stellar pairs should share similar ages and characteristics. Moreover, the younger star exhibits magnetic properties absent in its elder counterpart, adding another layer of intrigue to the enigmatic duo.

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Drawing clues from the nebula’s composition and age—estimated at a youthful 7,500 years—the researchers pieced together a scenario of cosmic drama. It is believed that NGC 6164/6165 was born from the violent merger of at least three stars, with two closely orbiting stars undergoing a cataclysmic collision. This merger, marked by intense magnetic activity and the expulsion of material, gave rise to the mesmerizing nebula we observe today.

As Hugues Sana of KU Leuven in Belgium elaborates, the aftermath of this stellar collision resulted in the formation of a binary system comprising the merged, now-magnetic star and its more distant companion. This binary pair now resides at the heart of the nebula, a testament to the tumultuous events that sculpted its cosmic landscape.

Beyond unraveling the origins of NGC 6164/6165, this discovery offers valuable insights into the mechanisms behind the formation of magnetic fields in massive stars. By witnessing the aftermath of a stellar merger, astronomers gain a unique opportunity to study the transient nature of stellar magnetism—a phenomenon rarely observed in such detail.

In essence, the NGC 6164/6165 nebula serves as a cosmic time capsule, preserving the remnants of a celestial collision that shaped the destiny of its central stars. As astronomers continue to explore the cosmos, discoveries like these remind us of the dynamic and ever-evolving nature of our universe.