May 9, 2003: This photograph of the coil-shaped Helix Nebula is one of the largest and most detailed celestial images ever made. The composite picture is a seamless blend of ultra-sharp images from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope WATCH: HubbleMinute Video HubbleMinute: Helix Nebula combined with the wide view of the Mosaic Camera on the National Science Foundation's 0.9-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, Ariz. The image shows a fine web of filamentary "bicycle-spoke" features embedded in the colorful red and blue ring of gas. At 650 light-years away, the Helix is one of the nearest planetary nebulae to Earth. A planetary nebula is the glowing gas around a dying, Sun-like star.See the rest:
The Helix appears to be round because we are looking at one end of the nebula. It is actually a trillion-mile-long tunnel of glowing gases.
These features are a forest of thousands of comet-like tentacles that are embedded along the inner rim of the nebula. The tentacles point toward the central star, which is a small but super-hot white dwarf [white dot in center of nebula] that seems to float in a sea of blue gas. These tentacles formed when a hot "stellar wind" of gas plowed into colder shells of dust and gas ejected previously by the doomed star. These comet-like tentacles have been observed from ground-based telescopes for decades, but never have they been seen in such detail. They may actually lie in a disk encircling the hot star, like an animal's collar.