SPACE PICTURES THIS WEEK: Rings Gored, Blue "Eye," More

SPACE PICTURES THIS WEEK: Rings Gored, Blue
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February 25, 2009--Like a giant blue eye, the Helix planetary nebula gazes from a mere 700 light-years away out of the constellation Aquarius. The giant object spans two light-years--half the distance between our sun and the nearest star.

A planetary nebula is the spectacular last gasp of a sunlike star before it becomes a white dwarf.

The Wide Field Imager at the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal facility in Chile also captured many "cometary knots." These puzzling bodies are the dots appearing around the inside of the ring. Though they've been the objects of much study, the knots are still a mystery to astronomers. What they're not is small--each is about as large as our solar system.

Also visible through Helix's luminous gases is the faint glow of other galaxies.

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—Image courtesy ESO
 
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