Subscribe free to our newsletters via your
. 24/7 Space News .

The Helix in New Colors
by Staff Writers
Garching, Germany (SPX) Jan 23, 2012

ESO's Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) has captured this unusual view of the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293), a planetary nebula located 700 light-years away. The coloured picture was created from images taken through Y, J and K infrared filters. While bringing to light a rich background of stars and galaxies, the telescope's infrared vision also reveals strands of cold nebular gas that are mostly obscured in visible images of the Helix. Credit: ESO/VISTA/J. Emerson. Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit. For a larger version of this image please go here.

ESO's VISTA telescope, at the Paranal Observatory in Chile, has captured a striking new image of the Helix Nebula. This picture, taken in infrared light, reveals strands of cold nebular gas that are invisible in images taken in visible light, as well as bringing to light a rich background of stars and galaxies.

The Helix Nebula is one of the closest and most remarkable examples of a planetary nebula[1]. It lies in the constellation of Aquarius (The Water Bearer), about 700 light-years away from Earth.

This strange object formed when a star like the Sun was in the final stages of its life. Unable to hold onto its outer layers, the star slowly shed shells of gas that became the nebula, before becoming a white dwarf, the tiny blue dot seen at the center of the image.

The nebula itself is a complex object composed of dust, ionized material as well as molecular gas, arrayed in a beautiful and intricate flower-like pattern and glowing in the fierce glare of ultraviolet light from the central white dwarf star.

The main ring of the Helix is about two light-years across, roughly half the distance between the Sun and the nearest star. However, material from the nebula spreads out from the star to at least four light-years. This is particularly clear in this infrared view since red molecular gas can be seen across much of the image.

While hard to see visually, the glow from the thinly spread gas is easily captured by VISTA's special detectors, which are very sensitive to infrared light. The 4.1-meter telescope is also able to detect an impressive array of background stars and galaxies.

The powerful vision of ESO's VISTA telescope also reveals fine structure in the nebula's rings. The infrared light can penetrate the obscuring dust and the hotter, ionized gas to show how the cooler, molecular gas is organized. The material clumps into filaments that radiate out from the center and the whole view resembles a celestial firework display.

Even though they look tiny, these strands of molecular hydrogen, known as cometary knots, are about the size of our Solar System. The molecules in them are able to survive the high-energy radiation that emanates from the dying star precisely because they clump into these knots, which in turn are shielded by the dust and ionized gas seen in optical images. It is currently unclear how the cometary knots may have originated.

[1] Planetary nebulae have nothing to do with planets. This confusing name arose because many of them show small bright discs when observed visually and resemble the outer planets in the Solar System, such as Uranus and Neptune. The Helix Nebula, which also bears the catalogue number NGC 7293, is unusual as it appears very large, but also very faint, when viewed through a small telescope.


Related Links
Stellar Chemistry, The Universe And All Within It

Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

Most Distant Dwarf Galaxy Detected
Kamuela, HI (SPX) Jan 20, 2012
Scientists have long struggled to detect the dim dwarf galaxies that orbit our own galaxy. So it came as a surprise on Jan. 18 when a team of astronomers using Keck II telescope's adaptive optics announced the discovery of a dwarf galaxy halfway across the universe. The new dwarf galaxy found by MIT's Dr. Simona Vegetti and colleagues is a satellite of an elliptical galaxy almost 10 billio ... read more

Roscosmos Revives Permanent Moon Base Plans

Russia talks of permanent moon base

Montana Students Pick Winning Names for Moon Craft

Students rename NASA moon probes Ebb and Flow

Three Generations of Rovers with Crouching Engineers

Adjusting Robotic Arm on Amboy Rock

Space Agency Boss Blames Makers for Satellite Crash

'Flaws' blamed for Russian space failure

T-rays technology could help develop Star Trek-style hand-held medical scanners

International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities

US joins effort to draw up space 'code of conduct'

Voyager Instrument Cooling After Heater Turned off

China plans to launch 21 rockets, 30 satellites this year

Shenzhou 9 Behind the Curtain

China Plans to Launch 30 Satellites in 2012

China launches Ziyuan III satellite

ISS Team Undertakes 'EPIC' Event

Photographing the International Space Station from Your Own Backyard

New crew arrives at international space station

NASA 'Smart SPHERES' Tested on ISS

Stratolaunch Systems Announces Ground Breaking At Mojave

Third ATV Launch Campaign Proceeding Towards March Launch

Inaugural Vega Mission Ready For Liftoff

SpaceX delays February flight to space stationl

Re-thinking an Alien World

Scientists Discover a Saturn-like Ring System Eclipsing a Sun-like Star

Planets around stars are the rule rather than the exception

Milky Way teaming with 'billions' of planets: study

Quantum physics enables perfectly secure cloud computing

Researchers Uncover Transparency Limits on Transparent Conducting Oxides

RIM to focus more on consumer market: new CEO

Raytheon sonars and desktops heading south

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - Space Media Network. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement