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News Release Archive:

News Release 767 of 964

April 15, 1996 12:00 AM (EDT)

News Release Number: STScI-1996-13

Hubble Finds Thousands of Gaseous Fragments Surrounding a Dying Star

April 15, 1996: Resembling a bizarre setting from a science fiction movie, dramatic images sent back by the Hubble telescope have surprised astronomers by uncovering thousands of gigantic, tadpole-shaped objects surrounding a dying star.

Dubbed "cometary knots" because their glowing heads and gossamer tails superficially resemble comets, they are probably the result of a dying star's final outbursts. Though ground-based telescopic observations have hinted at such objects, they have not previously been seen in such abundance, say researchers. Hubble captured thousands of these knots from a doomed star in the Helix Nebula, the closest planetary nebula to Earth — 450 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius.

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Credit: C. Robert O'Dell and Kerry P. Handron (Rice University), NASA