Release 162 of 178

Hubble Probes the Complex History of a Dying Star

Release date: Jan 11, 1995 9:00 AM (EST)
Release type: American Astronomical Society Meeting

This Hubble telescope image shows one of the most complex planetary nebulae ever seen, NGC 6543, nicknamed the "Cat's Eye Nebula." Hubble reveals surprisingly intricate structures including concentric gas shells, jets of high-speed gas, and unusual shock-induced knots of gas. Estimated to be 1,000 years old, the nebula is a visual "fossil record" of the dynamics and late evolution of a dying star.

A preliminary interpretation suggests that the object might be a double-star system. The dynamical effects of two stars orbiting one another most easily explains the intricate structures, which are much more complicated than features seen in most planetary nebulae. The two stars are too close together to be individually resolved by Hubble and instead appear as a single point of light at the center of the nebula.