The Ring Nebula’s Most Detailed Images

The Hubble Space Telescope in orbit, and meticulous processing on the ground, reveal whole new depths to one of the most iconic deep-sky showpieces.

Zoom way out, and Hubble's new pic of the Ring Nebula (M57) looks like the usual color pictures we know. Click for large image (3.1 MB).
NASA / ESA / C. Robert O’Dell
I'll never become jaded by the fantastic astro images being taken with modern technology. I grew up seeing wonder and mystery in those old black-and-whites that were shot on insensitive chemical emulsions — with their mediocre resolution, modest depth, and especially their shallow dynamic range, which hid much of an object in underexposed black and burned-out white. I'll never stop marvelling at the wonders unveiled by modern digital sensors and processing.

And once in a while, something new just blows the rest away.

Zoomed out farther, the Ring reveals thin, dim outer shells that the central star threw off before it performed its more radical final disrobing. Many other planetary nebulae display similar outer halos in various flowery shapes. The halos here were composited into the image from deep exposures taken with the Large Binocular Telescope in Arizona. Click for large image (7.4 MB).
NASA / ESA / C. Robert O’Dell / David Thompson
Today NASA and the European Space Agency released meticulously assembled Hubble Space Telescope views of the old, familiar Ring Nebula in Lyra, in both narrow and wide fields. At right are mere thumbnails. Click through to the high-resolution versions, enlarge your window to the max, and prepare to scroll around.

Here's the whole press release, with links to a variety of resolutions, further images, videos, diagrams explaining the nebula's true football-in-a-barrel 3D shape, and some scientific background. From the release:

"It turns out that the nebula is shaped like a distorted doughnut. We are gazing almost directly down one of the poles of this structure, with a brightly colored barrel of material stretching away from us. Although the center of this doughnut may look empty, it is actually full of lower-density material that stretches both towards and away from us, creating a shape similar to a rugby ball slotted into the doughnut’s central gap." Read on.

4 thoughts on “The Ring Nebula’s Most Detailed Images

  1. Giulio Pecora

    Wow! A-MA-ZING!! Next time I look to this gem of the summer sky trough my 8" Cassegrain I am going to tell her: "I know you young lady, I know you better than you could think…".

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