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 colorful beauties were named for their resemblance to gas-giant planets like Jupiter.
Planetary nebulae are 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 colors. Our own sun will blossom into a planetary nebula when it dies in about five billion years.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ.of Ariz.
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