Comets Kick Up Dust in Helix Nebula

Spitzer_ssc2007-03a1_1024

spitzer_ssc2007-03a1 February 12th, 2007

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/K. Su (Univ. of Arizona)

This infrared image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Helix nebula, a cosmic starlet often photographed by amateur astronomers for its vivid colors and eerie resemblance to a giant eye.

The nebula, located about 700 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius, belongs to a class of objects called planetary nebulae. Discovered in the 18th century, these cosmic butterflies were named for their resemblance to gas-giant planets.

Planetary nebulae are actually the remains of stars that once looked a lot like our sun.

When sun-like stars die, they puff out their outer gaseous layers. These layers are heated by the hot core of the dead star, called a white dwarf, and shine with infrared and visible-light colors. Our own sun will blossom into a planetary nebula when it dies in about five billion years.

In Spitzer's infrared view of the Helix nebula, the eye looks more like that of a green monster's. Infrared light from the outer gaseous layers is represented in blues and greens. The white dwarf is visible as a tiny white dot in the center of the picture. The red color in the middle of the eye denotes the final layers of gas blown out when the star died.

The brighter red circle in the very center is the glow of a dusty disk circling the white dwarf (the disk itself is too small to be resolved). This dust, discovered by Spitzer's infrared heat-seeking vision, was most likely kicked up by comets that survived the death of their star. Before the star died, its comets and possibly planets would have orbited the star in an orderly fashion. But when the star blew off its outer layers, the icy bodies and outer planets would have been tossed about and into each other, resulting in an ongoing cosmic dust storm. Any inner planets in the system would have burned up or been swallowed as their dying star expanded.

The Helix nebula is one of only a few dead-star systems in which evidence for comet survivors has been found.

This image is made up of data from Spitzer's infrared array camera and multiband imaging photometer. Blue shows infrared light of 3.6 microns; green shows infrared light of 5.8 microns; and red shows infrared light of 24 microns.

Provider: Spitzer Space Telescope

Image Source: http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/images/1746-ssc2007-03a1-Dusty-Helix-Nebula

Curator: Spitzer Space Telescope, Pasadena, CA, USA

Image Use Policy: Public Domain

Image Details

Image Type
Observation
Object Name
Helix Nebula NGC7293
Subject - Milky Way
Star > Evolutionary Stage > White Dwarf
Star > Circumstellar Material > Disk
Nebula > Type > Planetary

Distance

Universescale1
650 light years
Spitzer_ssc2007-03a1_128
 

Position Details

Position (ICRS)
RA = 22h 29m 38.5s
DEC = -20° 50’ 12.4”
Orientation
North is 60.9° CW
Field of View
28.5 x 23.7 arcminutes
Constellation
Aquarius

Color Mapping

  Telescope Spectral Band Wavelength
Blue Spitzer (IRAC) Infrared (Near-IR) 3.6 µm
Green Spitzer (IRAC) Infrared (Mid-IR) 5.8 µm
Red Spitzer (MIPS) Infrared (Mid-IR) 24.0 µm
Spectrum_ir1
Blue
Green
Red
Spitzer_ssc2007-03a1_1280
×
ID
ssc2007-03a1
Subject Category
B.3.1.7   B.3.7.2   B.4.1.3  
Subject Name
Helix Nebula, NGC7293
Credits
NASA/JPL-Caltech/K. Su (Univ. of Arizona)
Release Date
2007-02-12
Lightyears
650
Redshift
650
Reference Url
http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/images/1746-ssc2007-03a1-Dusty-Helix-Nebula
Type
Observation
Image Quality
Good
Distance Notes
Distance from fast facts
Facility
Spitzer, Spitzer, Spitzer
Instrument
IRAC, IRAC, MIPS
Color Assignment
Blue, Green, Red
Band
Infrared, Infrared, Infrared
Bandpass
Near-IR, Mid-IR, Mid-IR
Central Wavelength
3600, 5800, 24000
Start Time
Integration Time
Dataset ID
Notes
Coordinate Frame
ICRS
Equinox
Reference Value
337.4104259, -20.8367878
Reference Dimension
4279, 3559
Reference Pixel
2140.5, 1780.5
Scale
-0.000111092, 0.000111092
Rotation
-60.92
Coordinate System Projection:
TAN
Quality
Full
FITS Header
Notes
Creator (Curator)
Spitzer Space Telescope
URL
http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu
Name
Spitzer Space Telescope
Email
Telephone
Address
1200 E. California Blvd.
City
Pasadena
State/Province
CA
Postal Code
91125
Country
USA
Rights
Public Domain
Publisher
Spitzer Science Center
Publisher ID
spitzer
Resource ID
ssc2007-03a1.tif
Metadata Date
2014-06-13
Metadata Version
1.1
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Detailed color mapping information coming soon...

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Universescalefull
650 light years