Behold NGC 6543, otherwise known as The Cat’s Eye – a planetary nebula revealed here in a stunning false colour image that shows the huge (three light years across) but otherwise faint halo of gaseous material that surrounds it. To wit:
Made with data from the Nordic Optical Telescope in the Canary Islands, the composite picture shows extended emission from the nebula. Planetary nebulae have long been appreciated as a final phase in the life of a Sun-like star. Only much more recently however, have some planetaries been found to have halos like this one, likely formed of material shrugged off during earlier active episodes in the star’s evolution. While the planetary nebula phase is thought to last for around 10,000 years, astronomers estimate the age of the outer filamentary portions of this halo to be 50,000 to 90,000 years.
Previously: The Cat’s Eye