A billowing pair of nearly symmetrical loops of dust and gas mark the death throes of an ancient red-giant star, as captured by Gemini South, one half of the International Gemini Observatory, operated by NSF’s NOIRLab. The resulting structure, said to resemble an old style of English jug, is a rarely seen bipolar reflection nebula. Evidence suggests that this object formed by the interactions between the dying red giant and a now-shredded companion star.
The glowing nebula IC 2220, nicknamed the Toby Jug Nebula owing to its resemblance to an old English drinking vessel, is a rare astronomical find. This reflection nebula, located about 1200 light-years away in the direction of the constellation Carina (the keel), is a double-lobed, or bipolar, cloud of gas and dust created and illuminated by the red-giant star at its center. This end-of-life phase of red giant stars is relatively brief, and the celestial structures that form around them are rare, making the Toby Jug Nebula an excellent case study into stellar evolution.
This image, captured by the Gemini South telescope, one half of the International Gemini Observatory, operated by NSF’s NOIRLab, showcases the Toby Jug Nebula’s magnificent, nearly symmetrical double-looped structure and glowing stellar heart. These features are unique to red giants transitioning from aging stars to planetary nebulae  and therefore offer astronomers valuable insight into the evolution of low- to intermediate-mass stars nearing the end of their lives as well as the cosmic structures they form.
At the heart of the Toby Jug Nebula is its progenitor, the red-giant star HR3126. Red giants form when a star burns through its supply of hydrogen in its core. Without the outward force of fusion, the star begins to contract. This raises the core temperature and causes the star to then swell up to 400 times its original size. Though HR3126 is considerably younger than our Sun — a mere 50 million years old compared to the Sun’s 4.6…