Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2003 May 10
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NGC 7293: The Helix Nebula
Credit: NASA, WIYN, NOAO, ESA, Hubble Helix Nebula Team, M. Meixner (STScI), & T. A. Rector (NRAO)

Explanation: Will our Sun look like this one day? The Helix Nebula is the closest example of a planetary nebula created at the end of the life of a Sun-like star. The outer gasses of the star expelled into space appear from our vantage point as if we are looking down a helix. The remnant central stellar core, destined to become a white dwarf star, glows in light so energetic it causes the previously expelled gas to fluoresce. The Helix Nebula, given a technical designation of NGC 7293, lies about 650 light-years away towards the constellation of Aquarius and spans about 2.5 light-years. The above picture is a composite of newly released images from the ACS instrument on the Hubble Space Telescope and wide-angle images from the Mosaic Camera on the WIYN 0.9-m Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory. A close-up of the inner edge of the Helix Nebula shows complex gas knots of unknown origin.

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