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Not a bagel, but a jelly doughnut: The new secrets of the Ring Nebula


The newly-released images of the Nebula show for the first time the spoke-like outer bands of gas. Credit: NASA, ESA, C.R. Robert O’Dell, G.J. Ferland, W.J. Henney and M. Peimbert
The newly-released images of the Nebula show for the first time the spoke-like outer bands of gas. Credit: NASA, ESA, C.R. Robert O’Dell, G.J. Ferland, W.J. Henney and M. Peimbert

Daniel Martins, staff writer

May 25, 2013 — Best-ever view of the Ring Nebula offers clues to our own sun's fate.

The Ring Nebula is a popular viewing target for astronomers, and one of the more well-known images our universe has to offer. 

And now the Hubble Space Telescope has joined forces with the ground-based Large Binocular Telescope in Arizona to produce a new, more spectacular view of the nebula.

"The nebula is not like a bagel, but rather, like a jelly doughnut, because it's filled with material in the middle," says C. Robert O'Dell of Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.

The new images allow astronomers to view more of the material around the nebula, the gaseous remains that were expelled by a dying star 4,000 years ago.

The original star at the centre of the lightshow, now a white dwarf, was many times larger than the star at the heart of our own solar system.

Even so, the new view of the Ring Nebula -- before, only the bright centre was really visible, not so much the darker "spokes" surrounding it -- should give scientists a better understanding of what will happen to our own sun, although don't expect it to be as pretty.

"When the sun becomes a white dwarf, it will heat more slowly after it ejects its outer gaseous layers," O'Dell says. "The material will be further away once it becomes hot enough to illuminate the gas.. This larger distance means the sun's nebular will be fainter because it is more extended."

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