Spiral Planetary Nebula : 2012

Photograph by

Robert Gendler

About this image

The strange S-shape that gives the Spiral Planetary Nebula its common name is seen clearly in this composite image. A planetary nebula is formed from the gas blown out by a sun-like star toward the end of its life. By this stage the star has used up its hydrogen and is burning helium instead, its core has contracted and its outer gas blown out to form a red giant. When this fuel is exhausted, complex processes eject huge shells of gas. Normally this is seen as an almost symmetrical shape, but here interactions in the expanding gas have resulted in this spiral shape. The nebula, catalogued by astronomers as NGC 5189, lies about 1,780 light years from Earth in the constellation in the constellation Musca. This image was assembled from data gathered by the orbiting 2.4 metre Hubble Space Telescope, the 8.1 metre Gemini North Telescope in Hawai’i and the photographer’s own 14.5 inch telescope. Robert Gendler Astronomy, Avon, Connecticut, USA