Hubble Space Telescope images the Ring Nebula M57

Ring Nebula M57, photographed with the HST WFPC2

Looking Down a Barrel of Gas At a Doomed Star

The NASA Hubble Space Telescope has captured the sharpest view yet of the most famous of all planetary nebulae: the Ring Nebula (M57). In this October 1998 image, the telescope has looked down a barrel of gas cast off by a dying star thousands of years ago. This photo reveals elongated dark clumps of material embedded in the gas at the edge of the nebula; the dying central star floating in a blue haze of hot gas.

The colors are approximately true colors. The color image was assembled from three black-and-white photos taken through different color filters with the Hubble telescope's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2. Blue isolates emission from very hot helium (in the He II line at 4686 A), which is located primarily close to the hot central star. Green represents ionized oxygen (the famous [O III] 5007 A "nebulium" line), which is located farther from the star. Red shows ionized nitrogen ([N II] 6584 A), which is radiated from the coolest gas, located farthest from the star. The gradations of color illustrate how the gas glows because it is bathed in ultraviolet radiation from the remnant central star, whose surface temperature is a white-hot 216,000 degrees Fahrenheit (120,000 degrees Celsius).

Credit: Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI/NASA)

[M57 Detail] Closer inspection of the image reveals a host of subarcsecond dark globules around the periphery of the nebula, numerous small dark clouds of dust that have formed in the gas flowing out from the star, which are silhouetted against more distant bright gas. The fact that no globules are seen projected against the central region indicates that their distribution is in fact toroidal or cylindrical, rather than spherical. These globulaes are so small that they were not detectable by earthbound telescopes, while they are easily visible in the Hubble photo.

The image here shows a magnification with a considerable number of globules.

  • Original STScI Press Release PR 99-01
  • Hubble Heritage Team Ring Nebula Project
  • High-res version of this image
  • 1152x900 screen sized image
  • This image was featured as Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) January 7, 1999, July 16, 2000, July 29, 2001, March 22, 2003.

  • Older HST image of M57

  • WIYN images of M57
  • Three faces of M57 by George Jacoby, KPNO
  • Lowell 1.1-m images of M57 (Bill Keel)
  • More images of M57
  • Amateur images of M57, more amateur images

    Hartmut Frommert
    Christine Kronberg

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    Last Modification: February 24, 1999