Astronomical image of the day: what is it? | Weather Blog

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.

In the center of the Cat’s Eye Nebula
Credit: Nasa, ESA, Hubble, HLA; Reprocessing and copyright: Raul Villaverde

Explanation: Three thousand light-years from us, a dying star launches shells of incandescent gas. This image from The Hubble Space Telescope reveals the Cat’s Eye Nebula (NGC 6543), as being one of the most complex planetary nebulae known. stretching half of one light yearthe characteristics seen in the cat eye are so complex that astronomers suspect the brilliant central object can actually be a binary star system. The term planetary nebulaused to describe this general class of objects, is misleading. Although these objects may appear round and planet-like in small telescopes, high-resolution images with large telescopes reveal that they are stars surrounded by cocoons of blown gas in the final stages of stellar evolution. Looking in that cat’s eyeastronomers may be seeing more than a detailed structure, they may be seeing the fate of our Sun, destined to enter its own planetary nebula phase of evolution… in about 5 billion years.

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