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Space

Hubble captures new portrait of a doomed star

Ring Nebula
Ring Nebula   

AUSTIN, Texas (CNN) -- Researchers have released the sharpest view yet of the Ring Nebula, also called M57, a barrel of gas about one light year across.

Astronomers with the Space Telescope Science Institute say the Ring Nebula is the best known example of a planetary nebula -- the colorful, glowing remains of an exploded star.

The Ring Nebula is located in the constellation Lyra, about 2,000 light years from Earth. A light year is the distance light travels through space in one year -- about 6 trillion miles.

The new picture, taken by the Hubble Space telescope, suggests the Nebula is actually cylindrical in shape and that from Earth we see it almost on end, so it looks like a circle.

The Nebula was first observed and cataloged by the French astronomer Charles Messier more than 200 years ago.

The picture was released to the public as part of the Hubble Heritage Program, a new project designed to foster interest in astronomy by making the most visually stunning Hubble images available to the public.

"We chose the Ring Nebula as our first new target, in part, because it is so well known among amateur astronomers," said astronomer Howard Bond, a member of the Heritage team. "We knew the Ring photo would be spectacular because we had already imaged a portion of the nebula with short Hubble exposures in 1995, and what we saw was absolutely amazing."

The image was released at the winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society, under way this week in Austin, Texas.

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