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 June 21
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WR 134 Ring Nebula
Image Credit & Copyright: Don Goldman

Explanation: Made with narrow and broad band filters, this colorful cosmic snap shot covers a field of view about the size of the full Moon within the boundaries of the constellation Cygnus. It highlights the bright edge of a ring-like nebula traced by the glow of ionized hydrogen and oxygen gas. Embedded in the region's interstellar clouds of gas and dust, the complex, glowing arcs are sections of bubbles or shells of material swept up by the wind from Wolf-Rayet star WR 134, brightest star near the center of the frame. Distance estimates put WR 134 about 6,000 light-years away, making the frame over 50 light-years across. Shedding their outer envelopes in powerful stellar winds, massive Wolf-Rayet stars have burned through their nuclear fuel at a prodigious rate and end this final phase of massive star evolution in a spectacular supernova explosion. The stellar winds and final supernovae enrich the interstellar material with heavy elements to be incorporated in future generations of stars.

Tomorrow's picture: pixels in space

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