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.
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.
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.