Astronomical objects or celestial objects are naturally occurring physical entities, associations or structures that current science has demonstrated to exist in the observable universe. The term astronomical object is sometimes used interchangeably with astronomical body. Typically, an astronomical (celestial) body refers to a single, cohesive structure that is bound together by gravity (and sometimes by electromagnetism). Examples include the asteroids, moons, planets and the stars. Astronomical objects are gravitationally bound structures that are associated with a position in space, but may consist of multiple independent astronomical bodies or objects. These objects range from single planets to star clusters, nebulae or entire galaxies. A comet may be described as a body, in reference to the frozen nucleus of ice and dust, or as an object, when describing the nucleus with its diffuse coma and tail.
The universe can be viewed as having a hierarchical structure. At the largest scales, the fundamental component of assembly is the galaxy, which are assembled out of dwarf galaxies. The galaxies are organized into groups and clusters, often within larger superclusters, that are strung along great filaments between nearly empty voids, forming a web that spans the observable universe. Galaxies and dwarf galaxies have a variety of morphologies, with the shapes determined by their formation and evolutionary histories, including interaction with other galaxies. Depending on the category, a galaxy may have one or more distinct features, such as spiral arms, a halo and a nucleus. At the core, most galaxies have a supermassive black hole, which may result in an active galactic nucleus. Galaxies can also have satellites in the form of dwarf galaxies and globular clusters.
A planetary nebula, often abbreviated as PN or plural PNe, is a kind of emission nebula consisting of an expanding glowing shell of ionized gas ejected from old red giant stars late in their lives. The word 'nebula' is Latin for mist or cloud and the term 'planetary nebula' is a misnomer that originated in the 1780s with astronomer William Herschel because when viewed through his telescope, these objects appeared to him to resemble the rounded shapes of planets. Herschel's name for these objects was popularly adopted and has not been changed. They are a relatively short-lived phenomenon, lasting a few tens of thousands of years, compared to a typical stellar lifetime of several billion years.
A mechanism for formation of most planetary nebulae is thought to be the following: at the end of the star's life, during the red giant phase, the outer layers of the star are expelled by strong stellar winds. Eventually, after most of the red giant's atmosphere is dissipated, the exposed hot, luminous core emits ultraviolet radiation to ionize the ejected outer layers of the star. Absorbed ultraviolet light energises the shell of nebulous gas around the central star, appearing as a bright coloured planetary nebula at several discrete visible wavelengths.
Planetary nebulae may play a crucial role in the chemical evolution of the Milky Way, returning material to the interstellar medium from stars where elements, the products of nucleosynthesis (such as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and neon), have been created. Planetary nebulae are also observed in more distant galaxies, yielding useful information about their chemical abundances.