While NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope showed us some previously unknown details of the Southern Ring Nebula, Hubble is still alive and kicking, and the photos it takes are still magnificent. Paired with great processing, they truly show the beauty and marvel of the universe, and NASA’s recent Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the Southern Ring Nebula in captivating colors.
[Related reading: Gorgeous new Hubble photo shows two young stars in the Orion nebula]
Although it’s one of the most famous celestial circles, this image makes us marvel the Southern Ring Nebula once again. NASA explains that stargazers noticed this nebula hundreds of years ago, and they couldn’t understand its unusual shape. “It looked like a ring on the sky,” NASA writes. “Except for the rings of Saturn, the Ring Nebula (M57) may be the most famous celestial circle. We now know what it is, and that its iconic shape is due to our lucky perspective.”
Space image processor Judy Schmidt used a set of Hubble data to process this particular image of the famous nebula. “The Ring Nebula has a very nice set of data,” she writes on Flickr. “It’s very fun without a lot of odd things to deal with.”
But other than creating mesmerizing, colorful photos for everyone to enjoy, this Hubble image has a scientific significance. After all, that’s Hubble’s primary purpose. NASA explains that the recent mapping of the expanding nebula’s 3D structure was based partly on this clear photo:
“[The mapping] indicates that the nebula is a relatively dense, donut-like ring wrapped around the middle of an (American) football-shaped cloud of glowing gas. Our view from planet Earth looks down the long axis of the football, face-on to the ring. Of course, in this well-studied example of a planetary nebula, the glowing material does not come from planets. Instead, the gaseous shroud represents outer layers expelled from the dying, once sun-like star, now a tiny pinprick of light seen at the nebula’s center. Intense ultraviolet light from the hot central star ionizes atoms in the gas. The Ring Nebula is about one light-year across and 2,500 light-years away.”