The Cat’s Eye

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Behold: NGC 6543 – the brightest and most detailed known planetary nebula, from our perspective at least. The Cat’s Eye Nebula is composed of gas expelled in the death throes of a Sun-like star. To wit:

This nebula‘s dying central star may have produced the outer circular concentric shells by shrugging off outer layers in a series of regular convulsions. The formation of the beautiful, complex-yet-symmetric inner structures, however, is not well understood. The featured image is a composite of a digitally sharpened Hubble Space Telescope image with X-ray light captured by the orbiting Chandra Observatory. The exquisite floating space statue spans over half a light-year across. Of course, gazing into this Cat’s Eye, humanity may well be seeing the fate of our sun, destined to enter its own planetary nebula phase of evolution … in about 5 billion years.

(Image: NASAESAHubble Legacy ArchiveChandra X-ray Obs.; Rudy Pohl)

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