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.

2012 January 31
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download 
the highest resolution version available.

The Helix Nebula from the VISTA Telescope
Credit: ESO/VISTA/J. Emerson; Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit

Explanation: Will our Sun look like this one day? The Helix Nebula is one of brightest and closest examples of a planetary nebula, a gas cloud 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 700 light-years away towards the constellation of the Water Bearer (Aquarius) and spans about 2.5 light-years. The above picture was taken three colors on infrared light by the 4.1-meter Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile. A close-up of the inner edge of the Helix Nebula shows complex gas knots of unknown origin.

Tomorrow's picture: red horizon

< | Archive | Index | Search | Calendar | RSS | Education | About APOD | Discuss | >

Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (UMCP)
NASA Official: Phillip Newman Specific rights apply.
NASA Web Privacy Policy and Important Notices
A service of: ASD at NASA / GSFC
& Michigan Tech. U.