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The Cat's Eye Nebula | Hubble

The Cat's Eye Nebula | Hubble

A dying star has created a fantasy-like sculpture of gas and dust. In this detailed view from the NASA/European Space Agency Hubble Space Telescope, the so-called Cat's Eye Nebula, looks like the penetrating eye of the disembodied sorcerer Sauron from the film adaptation of "Lord of the Rings."

The nebula, formally catalogued NGC 6543, is every bit as inscrutable as the J.R.R. Tolkien phantom character. Although the Cat's Eye Nebula was among the first planetary nebula ever to be discovered, it is one of the most complex planetary nebulae ever seen in space. A planetary nebula forms when Sun-like stars gently eject their outer gaseous layers to form bright nebulae with amazing twisted shapes.

The Cat's Eye Nebula (also known as NGC 6543 and Caldwell 6) is a planetary nebula in the northern constellation of Draco, discovered by William Herschel on February 15, 1786. It was the first planetary nebula whose spectrum was investigated by the English amateur astronomer William Huggins, demonstrating that planetary nebulae were gaseous and not stellar in nature. Structurally, the Hubble Space Telescope has revealed knots, jets, bubbles and complex arcs, being illuminated by the central hot planetary nebula nucleus (PNN). It is a well-studied object that has been observed from radio to X-ray wavelengths.

Credit: European Space Agency (ESA), NASA, HEIC and The Hubble Heritage Team [Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI)/Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA)]

Release Date: September 9, 2004

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