NOAO / AURA / NSF / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY NOAO / AURA / NSF / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
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Owl Nebula. Optical image of the Owl planetary nebula (M97, NGC 3587). Planetary nebulae are so named because they resembled planets in the small telescopes with which they were first discovered. They comprise shells of gas cast off by a star towards the end of its life. Radiation from the white dwarf remnant of the star (centre) ionises the gas, causing it to glow. This nebula is torus- shaped, with the darker areas containing less gas. It is around 6000 years old and 2600 light years away in the constellation Ursa Major. Photographed by the KPNO 0.9-metre telescope, Kitt Peak, USA.
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