The Ring Nebula is actually more like a jelly doughnut than a bagel (Photo : NASA)
The Ring Nebula, it seems, is not actually a true ring. Thanks to the keen eyes of the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have found that there is far more to this eye-dazzling cosmic phenomenon than initially believed.
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The Ring Nebula is located around 2,000 light-years away and is a one-light-year-wide cloud of ionized gas the result of a dying red giant star. While previous observations of the nebula indicated gaseous material in the center, it wasn't until various images from the Hubble Space Telescope allowed scientists to recreate the nebula in 3-D that the nebula's structure was confirmed.
"The nebula is not like a bagel, but rather, it's like a jelly doughnut, because it's filled with material in the middle," said team leader C. Robert O'Dell in a NASA statement.
"With Hubble's detail, we see a completely different shape than what's been thought about historically for this classic nebula. The new Hubble observations show the nebula in much clearer detail, and we see things are not as simple as we previously thought," O'Dell stated.
The Ring Nebula was formed around 4,000 years ago, and is expected to continue its 43,000-mile-per-hour expansion for another 10,000 years.
Studying the Ring Nebula will help scientists better understand the life cycle our own sun will go through. The nebula faces the Earth head-on, allowing astronomers to peer right into the heart of it, however, the star that caused the nebula was far larger than the sun, meaning there will be stark differences in the way our solar system's star peters out.
"When the sun becomes a white dwarf, it will heat more slowly after it ejects its outer gaseous layers," O'Dell said. "The material will be farther away once it becomes hot enough to illuminate the gas. This larger distance means the sun's nebula will be fainter because it is more extended."