The Evolving Universe

Smithsonian Institution

Helix Nebula • NGC 7293

Helix image

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Observers: Giovanni Fazio and Joe Hora

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The death of this star may give us a glimpse at our Sun's future. Its gravity was not strong enough to hold onto its outer atmosphere when it expanded into a red giant phase. Stellar winds from its leftover core blew the rings of gas away. While that core - a white dwarf star - is not visible in this image, it is located in the empty center of the "eye".

  • Distance from Earth: 700 light years
  • Size: 6 light years
  • Telescope: Spitzer/IRAC
  • Light: Infrared (RGB 8, 4.5, 3.6 microns)