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Last Updated: Friday, 30 April, 2004, 10:29 GMT 11:29 UK
Hubble telescope snares space bug
The hidden star's temperature is 250,000C

Fourteen years on and the Hubble Space Telescope continues to take images of the Universe that take the breath away.

Its latest reveals unprecedented detail in the Bug Nebula, a huge mass of gas and dust which hides a hot, dying star.

The Bug Nebula, or NGC 6302, is about 4,000 light-years from Earth in the southern constellation of Scorpius.

Stars like our Sun shed their outer layers when they get old and in this case, the ejected material appears to have gone in two distinct directions.

The nebula is said to have fascinating chemistry.

Earlier observations have shown that the outer regions of dust contain hydrocarbons, carbonates such as calcite, as well as water-ice and iron.

The presence of carbonates is particularly interesting. In the Solar System, their presence is taken as evidence for liquid water in the past, because carbonates form when carbon dioxide dissolves in liquid water and forms sediments.

But its detection in nebulae such as the Bug Nebula, where no liquid water has existed, shows that other formation processes cannot be excluded, the European Space Agency says.

Albert Zijlstra, from UMIST in Manchester, UK, who leads a team of astronomers probing the Bug Nebula, said: "What caught our interest in NGC 6302 was the mixture of minerals and crystalline ice - hailstones frozen on to small dust grains. Very few objects have such a mixed composition."

He told BBC News: "There are about a thousand of these objects known in the Milky Way but of these, the Bug Nebula has the most well-defined structures; it has the hottest star [at 250,000C]."

The BBC's Sue Nelson
"This dying star is 4,000 light-years away"

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