An overwhelming relief in the sky: the Helix Nebula. Located at a distance of 650 light years, the angular size of the Helix Nebula corresponds to a large ring almost three light years in diameter: approximately three quarters of the distance between the Sun and its nearest star. It is among the closest planetary nebulae to Earth, encompassing a fragment of sky in Aquarius equivalent to half a full moon. The images show an impressive network of filamentous rays embedded in a glowing red (hydrogen and nitrogen) and blue (oxygen) gas ring.
The Hubble Space Telescope shows the prodigious panorama that extends into the vast tunnel of billions of kilometers of burning gas. This fluorescent cylinder is oriented almost directly towards the Earth, hence its bubble aspect. A forest of thousands of filaments like comets along the inner edge of the nebula, points towards the central star: a steamy white dwarf.
Planetary nebulae, such as Helix, are sculpted during a late stage in the life of solar-type stars by the torrent of gas flowing from the dying star. They have nothing to do with the planetary formation despite its name, assigned due to the aspect they acquire when viewed through small telescopes, similar to a planetary disk. With enough increases it is possible to solve its classic structure as a "donut".
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