Explanation: A planetary nebula with a simple symmetry familiar to telescopic sky gazers, the Ring Nebula (M57) is some 2,000 light-years away in the musical constellation Lyra. Hints of changing colors and subtle details are brought out in this remarkable sketch of the cosmic ring. The sketch was made with 800x magnification and excellent seeing conditions directly at the eyepiece of a 40 inch reflecting telescope. Colored pencils on white paper were used to create the original drawing, shown here digitally scanned with an inverted palette applied. About one light-year across, the nebula is composed of outer layers expelled from a dying, once sun-like star. Intense ultraviolet light from the hot central star ionizes atoms in the gas and powers the nebular glow. Ionized hydrogen adds a reddish tint. Ionized oxygen produces a characteristic blue-green color. Difficult to see under average conditions with small telescopes, the Ring Nebula’s central star was visible at all times during the artist’s study.
Explanation: Made with narrow and broad band filters, this colorful cosmic snap shot covers a field of view about the size of the full Moon within the boundaries of the constellation Cygnus. It highlights the bright edge of a ring-like nebula traced by the glow of ionized hydrogen and oxygen gas. Embedded in the region’s interstellar clouds of gas and dust, the complex, glowing arcs are sections of bubbles or shells of material swept up by the wind from Wolf-Rayet star WR 134, brightest star near the center of the frame. Distance estimates put WR 134 about 6,000 light-years away, making the frame over 50 light-years across. Shedding their outer envelopes in powerful stellar winds, massive Wolf-Rayet stars have burned through their nuclear fuel at a prodigious rate and end this final phase of massive star evolution in a spectacular supernova explosion. The stellar winds and final supernovae enrich the interstellar material with heavy elements to be incorporated in future generations of stars.
Explanation: Except for the rings of Saturn, the Ring Nebula (M57) is probably the most famous celestial band. Its classic appearance is understood to be due to perspective - our view from planet Earth looks down the center of a roughly barrel-shaped cloud of glowing gas. But expansive looping structures are seen to extend far beyond the Ring Nebula’s familiar central regions in this intriguing composite of ground based and Hubble Space Telescope images with narrowband image data from Subaru. Of course, in this well-studied example of a planetary nebula, the glowing material does not come from planets. Instead, the gaseous shroud represents outer layers expelled from the dying, once sun-like star at the nebula’s center. Intense ultraviolet light from the hot central star ionizes atoms in the gas. Ionized oxygen atoms produce the characteristic greenish glow and ionized hydrogen the prominent red emission. The central ring of the Ring Nebula is about one light-year across and 2,000 light-years away. To accompany tonight’s shooting stars it shines in the northen constellation Lyra.
The Ring Nebula (NGC 6720) appears in the northern constellation of Lyra. It is a prominent example of a planetary nebula. This is a shell of ionized gas expelled into the surrounding interstellar medium by a red giant star, which was passing through the last stage in its evolution before becoming a white dwarf.
M57 is about 1 light-year in diameter and 2,300 light-years from Earth. Image from the Hubble Space Telescope.