NASA Image of the Day: The Cat’s Eye Nebula

Planetary nebulae have long been accepted as the last stage in the life of a Sun-like star.

What do we see in today’s NASA image?

The Cat’s Eye Nebula (NGC 6543) is one of the most famous planetary nebulae. In this wide-angle image, its more familiar outline is seen in the nebula’s brighter center. Today’s image is the result of the combination of data from two telescopes and it also shows the nebula’s dim outer halo. The Cat’s Eye Nebula is approximately 3000 light-years away from us, and its faint outer halo is 5 light-years wide.

Planetary nebulae have recently been discovered that have halos similar to the Cat’s Eye Nebula. These halos are probably composed of materials that were separated from the star in the early stages of its evolution. This final phase of the planetary nebula appears to last about 10,000 years, but astronomers estimate the age of the outer filamentary parts of the halo to be 50,000 to 90,000 years old.

The spiral galaxy NGC 6552 is visible about 50 million light-years away from the Cat’s Eye Nebula on the right side of the image.

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