NGC 3242

Alt. Designations: NGC 3242, Ghost of Jupiter
Object Type: planetary nebula
Constellation: Hydra
Distance: 14 kly
Right Ascension: 10h 24m 46.1s
Declination: -18° 38´ 31"
Visual Magnitude: 7.7
Apparent Dimension: 1.07´ Dia.
Best Month To View: Feb

NGC 3242 (also known as the Ghost of Jupiter or Caldwell 59) is a planetary nebula located in the constellation Hydra. When stars with a mass similar to our sun approach the end of their lives by exhausting supplies of hydrogen and helium fuel in their cores, they swell up into cool red-giant stars. In a last gasp before death, they expel the layers of gas in their outer atmosphere. This exposes the core of the dying star, a dense hot ball of carbon and oxygen called a white dwarf. The white dwarf is so hot that it shines very brightly in the ultraviolet. The ultraviolet light from the white dwarf, in turn, ionizes the gaseous material expelled by the star causing it to glow. A planetary nebula is really the death of a low-mass star.