Planetary Nebula Gallery: Four planetary nebulas located less than 5000 light years from Earth.
This gallery shows four planetary nebulas from the first systematic survey of such objects in the solar neighborhood made with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. The planetary nebulas shown here are NGC 6543 (aka the Cat's Eye), NGC 7662, NGC 7009 and NGC 6826. X-ray emission from Chandra is colored purple and optical emission from the Hubble Space Telescope is colored red, green and blue. A planetary nebula is a phase of stellar evolution that the sun should experience several billion years from now, when it expands to become a red giant and then sheds most of its outer layers, leaving behind a hot core that contracts to form a dense white dwarf star. A wind from the hot core rams into the ejected atmosphere, creating the shell-like filamentary structures seen with optical telescopes. The diffuse X-ray emission is caused by shock waves as the wind collides with the ejected atmosphere. The properties of the X-ray point sources in the center of about half of the planetary nebulas suggest that many central stars responsible for ejecting planetary nebulas have companion stars.
Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/RIT/J.Kastner et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI
Note: For more information, see NGC 6543: A Planetary Nebula Gallery.