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.
(Image : R. Corradi (Isaac Newton Group), Nordic Optical Telescope)
Previously: The Cat’s Eye
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: NASA, ESA, Hubble Legacy Archive; Chandra X-ray Obs.; Rudy Pohl)