Hubble telescope gives new view of iconic cosmic object

May 23, 2013 at 5:59 PM

NASHVILLE, May 23 (UPI) -- NASA says the Hubble Space Telescope has revealed a new twist on the Ring Nebula, a cosmic object so iconic it's a popular illustration for astronomy books.

Hubble has revealed the true shape of the nebula, the glowing gas shroud around an old, dying, sun-like star, the space agency reported Thursday.

The nebula's apparent ring shape is a result of perspective but the Hubble images show a more complex structure than astronomers once thought and have allowed them to construct the most precise 3-D model of the nebula.

The nebula appears to be a ring because the view from Earth is looking straight into what is actually a barrel-shaped cloud of gas, astronomers said.

"The nebula is not like a bagel, but rather, it's like a jelly doughnut, because it's filled with material in the middle," C. Robert O'Dell of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, said.

O'Dell leads a research team that used Hubble and several ground-based telescopes to obtain the best view yet of the iconic nebula.

It will continue to expand for 10,000 years, a short phase in the lifetime of the star, the astronomers said, then will become fainter and fainter until it merges with the interstellar medium.

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