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Cat’s Eye Planetary Nebula March 14, 2009

Posted by jtintle in Deep Space, Space Fotos.
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NASA/JPL-Caltech/J. Hora (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA)


The “Cat’s Eye” nebula, or NGC 6543, is a well-studied example of a “planetary nebula.” Such objects are the glowing remnants of dust and gas expelled from moderate-sized stars during their last stages of life. Our own sun will generate such a nebula in about five billion years.

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has studied many such planetary nebulae in infrared light, including a variety of more distant ones, which have helped scientists identify a population of carbon-bearing stars near our galaxy’s center.

The infrared emission from the Cat’s Eye is generated by a variety of elements and molecules. The bright inner region of this nebula shows a complex structure reminiscent of a feline eye. Outside this compact region lies a series of other structures representing material that was ejected slightly earlier in the central star’s life, when it was a giant star.

The image is a composite of data from Spitzer’s infrared array camera. Light with a wavelength of 3.6 microns is rendered as blue, 5.8 microns is displayed as green and 8.0 microns is represented in red. The brightness of the central area has been greatly reduced to make it possible to maintain its visibility while enhancing the brightness of the much fainter outer features. Overall colors have been enhanced to better show slight variations in hue.

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NGC 6543: The Cat’s Eye Nebula Redux August 3, 2008

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NGC 6543

X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; Optical: NASA/STScI

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This composite of data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope is a new look for NGC 6543, better known as the Cat’s Eye nebula. This famous object is a so-called planetary nebula that represents a phase of stellar evolution that the Sun should experience several billion years from now. When a star like the Sun begins to run out of fuel, it becomes what is known as a red giant. In this phase, a star sheds some of its outer layers, eventually leaving behind a hot core that collapses to form a dense white dwarf star. A fast wind emanating from the hot core rams into the ejected atmosphere, pushes it outward, and creates the graceful filamentary structures seen with optical telescopes.

Chandra’s X-ray data (colored in blue) of NGC 6543 shows that its central star is surrounded by a cloud of multi-million-degree gas. By comparing where the X-rays lie in relation to the structures seen in optical light by Hubble (red and purple), astronomers were able to deduce that the chemical abundances in the region of hot gas were like those in the wind from the central star and different from the outer cooler material. In the case of the Cat’s Eye, material shed by the star is flying away at a speed of about 4 million miles per hour. The star itself is expected to collapse to become a white dwarf star in a few million years.

The Cat’s Eye Nebula November 13, 2006

Posted by jtintle in Deep Space, Space Fotos.
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See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.


J. P. Harrington (U. Maryland) & K. J. Borkowski (NCU) HST, NASA


Three thousand light-years away, a dying star throws off shells of glowing gas. This image from the Hubble Space Telescope reveals the Cat’s Eye Nebula to be one of the most complex planetary nebulae known. In fact, the features seen in the Cat’s Eye are so complex that astronomers suspect the bright central object may actually be a binary star system. The term planetary nebula, used to describe this general class of objects, is misleading. Although these objects may appear round and planet-like in small telescopes, high resolution images reveal them to be stars surrounded by cocoons of gas blown off in the late stages of stellar evolution.

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