Bizarre Cat's Eye Nebula could see into our sun's future
A color composite of visible light and X-ray images of the Cat's Eye Nebula shows the expulsion of material from a collapsing star in its center
(CNN) -- A kaleidoscopic bubble of hot gas around a dying star
could offer a preview of what happens to our sun, according to
Using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory to peer into the interior
of the picturesque planetary nebula, astronomers unexpectedly
found a central star in the late stages of life emitting powerful
The X-ray observations of the Cat's Eye Nebula reveal a hot gas
cloud around a bright star, which is shedding its material and
expected to collapse into a white dwarf in several million years.
Scientists created this colorful composite of the Cat's Eye
nebular using images from Chandra and NASA's Hubble Space
The Chandra observatory detected the X-ray emissions of the
central star and interior hot gas cloud, represented in purple.
The Hubble observatory detected cooler material in the optical
light range, seen as reds and greens, which surround the hot
By comparing the data from the two telescopes, astronomers can
study the interaction between the hot cloud and cooler nebula.
"Despite the complex optical appearance of the nebula, the X-ray
emission illustrates unambiguously that the hot gas in the
central bubble is driving the expansion of the optical nebula,"
said lead scientist You-Hua Chu in a statement.
"The Chandra data will help us better understand how stars
similar to our sun produce planetary nebula and evolve into white
drawfs as they grow old."
Planetary nebulas, formed when dying stars cast off their outer layers, were so named because early astronomers using small telescopes thought they looked like planets.
The Cat's Eye Nebula, about 3,000 light years from Earth, formed about 1,000 years ago. Many scientists think our sun will suffer a similar fate billions of years in the future.
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The Chandra X-ray Observatory Center
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