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 July 25
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 the highest resolution version available.

Dumbbell Nebula Halo
Credit & Copyright: Robert Gendler

Explanation: In 1764, French astronomer Charles Messier sighted this gorgeous cosmic cloud which he described as an oval nebula without stars. Cataloged as M27, it is now popularly known as the Dumbbell Nebula, not for its substandard academic performance but for the elongated shape, like a bar with weights on each end, which first caught Messier's eye. This deep image of the bright planetary nebula does reveal the Dumbell's central star though, and an array of foreground and background stars toward the sly constellation Vulpecula. The picture is a composite that includes 8 hours of exposure through a filter designed to record only the light of hydrogen atoms, tracing the intricate details of the nebula's faint outer halo which spans light-years. Thought to be an example of the fate awaiting our own Sun 5 billion years hence, the Dumbbell Nebula is about 1,200 light-years away.

Tomorrow's picture: breakfast

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