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News Release 520 of 1048

December 16, 2004 10:00 AM (EST)

News Release Number: STScI-2004-32

A New Twist on an Old Nebula


Image: Two Views of a Nebula

Two Views of a NebulaSTScI-PRC2004-32a Artist's Concept

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The top composite image is a view of the colorful Helix Nebula taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys aboard NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. The object is so large that both telescopes were needed to capture a complete view. The Helix resembles a simple doughnut as seen from Earth. But looks can be deceiving. The bottom illustration shows how the Helix would appear if viewed from the side. In this illustration, the Helix consists of two gaseous disks nearly perpendicular to each other. The Helix is a planetary nebula, the glowing gaseous envelope expelled by a dying, sun-like star. The illustration was taken from a three-dimensional model of the Helix. A team of astronomers constructed the model, based on observations from several ground- and space-based observatories, including the Hubble telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys.

One possible scenario for the Helix's complex structure is that the dying star has a companion star. One disk may be perpendicular to the dying star's spin axis, while the other may lie in the orbital plane of the two stars. The Helix, located 690 light-years away, is one of the closest planetary nebulas to Earth.

The Hubble images were taken on November 19, 2002; the Cerro Tololo images on Sept. 17-18, 2003.

Object Name: Helix Nebula

Image Type: Astronomical/Illustration

Credits for the image and illustration: NASA, ESA, C.R. O'Dell (Vanderbilt University), and M. Meixner, P. McCullough, and G. Bacon (Space Telescope Science Institute)


The above montage includes these images:

Helix Nebula As Seen By Hubble and the Cerro Toledo Inter-American Observatory Image Type: Astronomical Helix Nebula As Seen By Hubble and the Cerro Toledo Inter-American Observatory Helix Nebula Model Image Type: Illustration Helix Nebula Model Artist's Concept

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