University Lowbrow Astronomers

Deep Sky Astronomy Pictures [M57, The Ring Nebula]

This page contains images produced by members of the University Lowbrow Astronomers.

by Dave Tucker

This is my second (third? Fourth?) attempt to image M57, the “Ring Nebula” in Lyrae. Total exposure time around 50 minutes.

Most stars, as they get toward the end of their lives, will go through a phase in which they swell up enormously to form so called “Giant” stars, then blow off their outer atmospheres, leaving behind a small but very hot central star (not quite visible in the center of the ring) and an expanding cloud of gas called a “planetary nebula,” of which M57 is an example. The hot central star produces a very large amount of ultraviolet light, causing the cloud of gas to fluoresce in red (from ionized Hydrogen), and green (mainly ionized Oxygen and Nitrogen). The object may be a hollow shell, or it may actually be doughnut shaped, nobody is quite sure.

The object is estimated to be about 2300 Light Years away (meaning we are now seeing it as it actually looked about 2300 years ago!) It is believed to be about 0.9 light years across (5,500,000,000,000 miles) and expanding at a rate of about a billion miles a year.

Looking through a small telescope (like the one used to take this picture) the object looks like a faint, blurry star. Larger amateur scopes clearly show the ring shape. The 24” McMath scope at Peach Mountain shows a very bright white ring, but I think the color is to subtle to be seen except in long exposures.

Equipment Used include “Back Woods” Off, “Deep Woods” Cutter’s, Milk Bones for Astro-buddy.

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