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.

August 2, 1997
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download 
 the highest resolution version available.

The Cat's Eye Nebula
Credit: J.P. Harrington and K.J. Borkowski (U. Maryland), HST, NASA

Explanation: Three thousand light years away, a dying star throws off shells of glowing gas. This image from the Hubble Space Telescope reveals "The Cat's Eye Nebula" to be one of the most complex planetary nebulae known. In fact, the features seen in this image are so complex that astronomers suspect the bright central object may actually be a binary star system. The term planetary nebula, used to describe this general class of objects, is misleading. Although these objects may appear round and planet-like in small telescopes, high resolution images reveal them to be stars surrounded by cocoons of gas blown off in the late stages of stellar evolution.

Tomorrow's picture: The Cygnus Loop

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
&: Michigan Tech. U.