Iridescent Glory of Nearby Planetary Nebula Showcased on Astronomy Day

Esahubble_heic0307a_500

esahubble_heic0307a May 9th, 2003

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

In one of the largest and most detailed celestial images ever made, the coil-shaped Helix Nebula is being unveiled tomorrow in celebration of Astronomy Day (Saturday, May 10). The composite picture is a seamless blend of ultra-sharp NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope HST) images combined with the wide view of the Mosaic Camera on the National Science Foundation's 0.9-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory, part of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, near Tucson, Ariz. Astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute assembled these images into a mosaic. The mosaic was then blended with a wider photograph taken by the Mosaic Camera. The image shows a fine web of filamentary "bicycle-spoke" features embedded in the colorful red and blue gas ring, which is one of the nearest planetary nebulae to Earth. Because the nebula is nearby, it appears as nearly one-half the diameter of the full Moon. This required HST astronomers to take several exposures with the Advanced Camera for Surveys to capture most of the Helix. HST views were then blended with a wider photo taken by the Mosaic Camera. The portrait offers a dizzying look down what is actually a trillion-mile-long tunnel of glowing gases. The fluorescing tube is pointed nearly directly at Earth, so it looks more like a bubble than a cylinder. A forest of thousands of comet-like filaments, embedded along the inner rim of the nebula, points back toward the central star, which is a small, super-hot white dwarf. The tentacles formed when a hot "stellar wind" of gas plowed into colder shells of dust and gas ejected previously by the doomed star. Ground-based telescopes have seen these comet-like filaments for decades, but never before in such detail. The filaments may actually lie in a disk encircling the hot star, like a collar. The radiant tie-die colours correspond to glowing oxygen (blue) and hydrogen and nitrogen (red). Valuable Hubble observing time became available during the November 2002 Leonid meteor storm. To protect the spacecraft, including HST's precise mirror, controllers turned the aft end into the direction of the meteor stream for about half a day. Fortunately, the Helix Nebula was almost exactly in the opposite direction of the meteor stream, so Hubble used nine orbits to photograph the nebula while it waited out the storm. To capture the sprawling nebula, Hubble had to take nine separate snapshots. 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.

Image Source: https://www.spacetelescope.org/images/heic0307a/

Curator: ESA/Hubble, Garching bei München, Germany

Image Use Policy: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Image Details

Image Type
Observation
Object Name
Helix Nebula NGC 7293
Subject - Milky Way
Nebula » Type » Planetary
Esahubble_heic0307a_128
 

Position Details

Position (ICRS)
RA = 22h 29m 39.8s
DEC = -20° 50’ 19.8”
Orientation
North is 0.4° CCW
Field of View
26.6 x 26.6 arcminutes
Constellation
Aquarius

Color Mapping

  Telescope Spectral Band Wavelength
Arrow_left_red Hubble Space Telescope (ACS) Optical (H-alpha) -
Arrow_left_green Hubble Space Telescope (ACS) Optical (Pseudogreen) -
Arrow_left_blue Hubble Space Telescope (ACS) Optical (Oiii) -
Additional information was contributed to this image by the National Science Foundation's 0.9-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory.
Esahubble_heic0307a_1280
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ID
heic0307a
Subject Category
B.4.1.3  
Subject Name
Helix Nebula, NGC 7293
Credits
NASA, NOAO, ESA, the Hubble Helix Nebula Team, M. Meixner (STScI), and T.A. Rector (NRAO).
Lightyears
Redshift
Reference Url
https://www.spacetelescope.org/images/heic0307a/
Type
Observation
Image Quality
Distance Notes
Facility
Hubble Space Telescope, Hubble Space Telescope, Hubble Space Telescope
Instrument
ACS, ACS, ACS
Color Assignment
Red, Green, Blue
Band
Optical, Optical, Optical
Bandpass
H-alpha, Pseudogreen, Oiii
Central Wavelength
Start Time
Integration Time
Dataset ID
Notes
A
Coordinate Frame
ICRS
Equinox
J2000
Reference Value
337.415904607, -20.8388349444
Reference Dimension
8000.0, 8000.0
Reference Pixel
4000.0, 4000.0
Scale
-5.5509895492e-05, 5.5509895492e-05
Rotation
0.42000000000000015
Coordinate System Projection:
TAN
Quality
Full
FITS Header
Notes
Creator (Curator)
ESA/Hubble
URL
http://www.spacetelescope.org/
Name
Email
Telephone
Address
Karl-Schwarzschild-Strasse 2
City
Garching bei München
State/Province
Postal Code
D-85748
Country
Germany
Rights
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
Publisher
ESA/Hubble
Publisher ID
esahubble
Resource ID
heic0307a
Metadata Date
2003-12-09T17:11:33+01:00
Metadata Version
1.1
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Detailed color mapping information coming soon...

 

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There is no distance meta data in this image.