New look at the eye in the sky

It is a celestial object we have featured before on Skymania. A distant star wreck that resembles a cosmic eye staring down at us from the depths of space.

Helix nebula
The Helix Nebula resembles a giant eye in the heavens. Image credit: ESO

Today European astronomers released a stunning new photo they have taken of the Helix Nebula.

Its bright blue pupil and the white of the eye are fringed by flesh-coloured eyelids – but this eye is so big that it light takes two and a half years to cross from one side to the other.

Nicknamed the Eye of God, this cosmic wonder is actually a shell of gas and dust that has been blown off by a faint central star. Our own solar system will meet a similar fate five billion years in the future.

It lies around 700 light-years away in the constellation of Aquarius, and can be dimly seen in small backyard telescopes by amateur astronomers who call it the Helix nebula. It covers an area of sky around a quarter the size of the full moon.

The photo was taken with a giant telescope at the European Southern Observatory, high on a mountaintop at La Silla in Chile. It is so detailed that a close-up reveals distant galaxies within the central eyeball. Previous powerful images of the nebula have included ones taken by the Hubble telescope and an infrared view from the Spitzer space telescope.

Picture: ESA.

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Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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