Rare Celestial Diamond Ring Formed In Space

By Shweta Iyer on April 9, 2014 12:15 PM EDT

celestial diamond ring
Astronomers using ESO's Very Large Telescope in Chile have captured this eye-catching image of planetary nebula Abell 33. Created when an aging star blew off its outer layers, this beautiful blue bubble is, by chance, aligned with a foreground star, and bears an uncanny resemblance to a diamond engagement ring. This cosmic gem is unusually symmetric, appearing to be almost perfectly circular on the sky. (Photo: ESO)

A perfectly round shape looks beautiful, especially if it belongs to a celestial object in the universe. And a round planetary nebulae, which is quite rare, is even more beautiful because of its colorful glowing structure, created when dying stars cast of their atmosphere. An image showing the perfectly round planetary nebula Abell 33, was captured by ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT), according to a press release Wednesday.

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Planetary nebulae are formed from aging stars. Aging stars get more and more luminous and their outer layers get puffed up. They puff to such an extent that the star gradually loses its gravitational pull on them and the outer layers get released out into space and create planetary nebulae, clouds of expanding gas with ultraviolet light that make them glow fiercely like neon signs. What is left behind, forms a white dwarf.

Although planetary nebulae are irregular in shape, a few rare ones like the Abell 33, is a perfectly circular specimen located some 1500 light-years from Earth. Looking at the picture, you will notice a bright star at the edge of the nebula. This star named HD 83535, creates a diamond-ring look, by a chance alignment with Abell 33. The star lies in the foreground of the nebula about halfway between Earth and Abell 33, just the right position to create this beautiful ring like structure.

The image also shows what appears like a tiny pearl closer to the center of the nebula. This is the remnant of the progenitor star of Abell 33, and the degenerate core is made of carbon and oxygen. This will eventually turn into a white dwarf. It still appears very bright, perhaps more luminous than our own Sun, and emits enough ultraviolet radiation to make the bubble of expelled atmosphere glow.

Abell 33 is one of the 86 objects included in the Abell Catalogue of Planetary Nebulae, compiled by astronomer George Abell 1966. He also compiled The Abell catalog of rich clusters of galaxies, an all-sky catalog of 4,073 rich galaxy clusters in both the northern and southern hemispheres of the sky.

This image uses data from the FOcal Reducer and low dispersion Spectrograph (FORS) instrument attached to the VLT, which were acquired as part of the ESO Cosmic Gems programme.

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