Most Detailed Observations Ever Of The Ring Nebula


Image credit: NASA, ESA, and C. Robert O’Dell

Image credit: NASA, ESA, and C. Robert O’Dell

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has produced the most detailed observations ever of the Ring Nebula (Messier 57). This image reveals intricate structure only hinted at in previous observations, and has allowed scientists to construct a model of the nebula in 3D — showing the true shape of this striking object.

Formed by a star throwing off its outer layers as it runs out of fuel, the Ring Nebula is an archetypal planetary nebula [1]. It is both relatively close to Earth and fairly bright, and so was first recorded in the late 18th century. As is common with astronomical objects, its precise distance is not known, but it is thought to lie just over 2000 light-years from Earth.

From Earth’s perspective, the nebula looks roughly elliptical. However, astronomers have combined ground-based data with new observations using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to observe the nebula again, hunting for clues about its structure, evolution, physical conditions and motion.

It turns out that the nebula is shaped like a distorted doughnut. We are gazing almost directly down one of the poles of this structure, with a brightly coloured barrel of material stretching away from us.

Full Story and Images: http://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic1310/
Also: http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2013/13

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