Image: The Cat's Eye Nebula (NGC 6543)

January 7, 2014, European Space Agency
Credit: ESA, NASA, HEIC and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Three thousand light years from Earth, the Cat's Eye Nebula (NGC 6543) is a sight that draws in the human eye. In this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, numerous bubbles are visible – shapes generated by the ejection of glowing gas as the star at its centre approaches the end of its life.

While large stars die in supernova explosions, average Sun-like stars form planetary nebulas as they exhaust their fuel supplies and slowly expire. The name 'planetary nebula' arose because the round shape, sculpted as layers of material are ejected, looked a little like a planet in small telescopes.

The Cat's Eye Nebula was discovered by William Herschel in 1786, and remains an interesting target for ground-based astronomers. Amateurs can see the magnitude 8.1 blob in the sky well enough to resolve the Cat's Eye shape, while large telescopes have identified a wider halo extending into space.

This image was published on the ESA Portal in 2004, but the Hubble Space Telescope first revealed the nebula's intricate structure in 1994.

Observations of its intricate concentric gas shells and unusual shock-induced knots of gas suggest that the star ejected its mass in a series of pulses at 1500 year intervals. These convulsions created dust shells that each contain as much mass as all of the planets in our Solar System combined.

Explore further: Hubble observes glowing, fiery shells of gas

Related Stories

Hubble observes glowing, fiery shells of gas

March 4, 2013

(Phys.org) —It may look like something from "The Lord of the Rings," but this fiery swirl is actually a planetary nebula known as ESO 456-67. Set against a backdrop of bright stars, the rust-colored object lies in the constellation ...

A ghostly trio from Spitzer Space Telescope

October 29, 2013

(Phys.org) —In the spirit of Halloween, scientists are releasing a trio of stellar ghosts caught in infrared light by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. All three spooky structures, called planetary nebulas, are in fact material ...

Image: Hubble's 'smoky' shells

December 17, 2012

(Phys.org)—Located in a relatively vacant region of space about 4,200 light-years away and difficult to see using an amateur telescope, the lonesome planetary nebula NGC 7354 is often overlooked. However, thanks to this ...

Hubble sees a planetary nebula in the making

October 12, 2012

(Phys.org)—The Universe is filled with mysterious objects. Many of them are as strange as they are beautiful. Among these, planetary nebulae are probably one of the most fascinating objects to behold in the night sky. No ...

NGC 2392: A beautiful end to a star's life

July 11, 2013

(Phys.org) —Stars like the Sun can become remarkably photogenic at the end of their life. A good example is NGC 2392, which is located about 4,200 light years from Earth. NGC 2392, (nicknamed the "Eskimo Nebula") is what ...

Recommended for you

Magnetized inflow accreting to center of Milky Way galaxy

August 17, 2018

Are magnetic fields an important guiding force for gas accreting to a supermassive black hole (SMBH) like the one that our Milky Way galaxy hosts? The role of magnetic fields in gas accretion is little understood, and trying ...

First science with ALMA's highest-frequency capabilities

August 17, 2018

The ALMA telescope in Chile has transformed how we see the universe, showing us otherwise invisible parts of the cosmos. This array of incredibly precise antennas studies a comparatively high-frequency sliver of radio light: ...

Another way for stellar-mass black holes to grow larger

August 17, 2018

A trio of researchers with The University of Hong Kong, Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics in Taiwan and Northwestern University in the U.S., has come up with an alternative theory to explain how some ...

Six things about Opportunity's recovery efforts

August 17, 2018

NASA's Opportunity rover has been silent since June 10, when a planet-encircling dust storm cut off solar power for the nearly-15-year-old rover. Now that scientists think the global dust storm is "decaying"—meaning more ...

Sprawling galaxy cluster found hiding in plain sight

August 16, 2018

MIT scientists have uncovered a sprawling new galaxy cluster hiding in plain sight. The cluster, which sits a mere 2.4 billion light years from Earth, is made up of hundreds of individual galaxies and surrounds an extremely ...

Hubble paints picture of the evolving universe

August 16, 2018

Astronomers using the ultraviolet vision of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have captured one of the largest panoramic views of the fire and fury of star birth in the distant universe. The field features approximately 15,000 ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.