Cat’s Eye

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, HEIC, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Ancient men used to believe that the stars were eyes in the sky, loved ones looking and watching over them. What ancient men didn’t know was that there really appear to be eyes in the sky.

They are not really eyes but dying stars who have blown off their outer layers into rings of gas that glow. The Cat’s Eye Nebula, or NGC 6543, is a classic planetary nebula. Astronomers call it a planetary nebula because to observers with early telescopes these objects looked like planets with their round shapes. The Cat’s Eye Nebula is the final stage in the life of a star much like our own Sun. Our Sun will last for another 5 billion years but this could be what it looks like late in its life.

The Cat’s Eye Nebula is also one of the youngest planetary nebula we can see. Scientists guess that it’s only 1000 years old and it shows the last phases of a star’s long life.

This cosmic eye, taken from the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995, is more than a light year across. It took light from the nebula three thousand years to reach our eyes.

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The ancient peoples saw pictures in the sky. From those patterns in the heavens, ancient storytellers created legends about heroes, maidens, dragons, bears, centaurs, dogs and mythical creatures...
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