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Wallpaper Details: The Helix Nebula's Iridescent Glory

High-resolution desktop wallpaper The Helix Nebula's Iridescent Glory by NASA, NOAO, ESA, the Hubble Helix Nebula Team, M. Meixner (STScI), and T.A. Rector (NRAO)
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The Helix Nebula's Iridescent Glory

February 11th, 2016

Planetary nebulae like the Helix are sculpted late in a Sun-like star's life by a torrential gush of gases escaping from the dying star. They have nothing to do with planet formation, but got their name because they look like planetary disks when viewed through a small telescope. With higher magnification, the classic "donut-hole" in the middle of a planetary nebula can be resolved. Based on the nebula's distance of 650 light-years, its angular size corresponds to a huge ring with a diameter of nearly 3 light-years. That's approximately three-quarters of the distance between our Sun and the nearest star.

The Helix Nebula is a popular target of amateur astronomers and can be seen with binoculars as a ghostly, greenish cloud in the constellation Aquarius. Larger amateur telescopes can resolve the ring-shaped nebula, but only the largest ground-based telescopes can resolve the radial streaks. After careful analysis, astronomers concluded the nebula really isn't a bubble, but is a cylinder that happens to be pointed toward Earth.

Credit: NASA, NOAO, ESA, the Hubble Helix Nebula Team, M. Meixner (STScI), and T.A. Rector (NRAO).

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astronomy » astrophysics » helix nebula » hst acs » hst wfc » hubble space telescope » nebulae » ngc 7293 » space » stars »

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