Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.
2004 February 7
Explanation: This pretty planetary nebula, catalogued as NGC 6369, was discovered by 18th century astronomer William Herschel as he used a telescope to explore the medicinal constellation Ophiucus. Round and planet-shaped, the nebula is also relatively faint and has acquired the popular moniker of Little Ghost Nebula. Planetary nebulae in general are not at all related to planets, but instead are created at the end of a sun-like star's life as its outer layers expand into space while the star's core shrinks to become a white dwarf. The transformed white dwarf star, seen near the centre, radiates strongly at ultraviolet wavelengths and powers the expanding nebula's glow. Surprisingly complex details and structures of NGC 6369 are revealed in this delightful colour image composed from Hubble Space Telescope data. The nebula's main ring structure is about a light-year across and the glow from ionized oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen atoms are coloured blue, green, and red respectively. Over 2,000 light-years away, the Little Ghost Nebula offers a glimpse of the fate of our Sun, which should produce its own pretty planetary nebula only about 5 billion years from now.
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NASA Official: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
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& Michigan Tech. U.