It looks like NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is busy helping with new discoveries again. After studying the well-known Ring Nebula, it’s helped scientists make a curious new observation: The nebula is more like a “jelly doughnut” than a “bagel”, making its name a bit of a misnomer.
These new descriptions come from researcher C. Robert O’Dell, team leader of a group studying the nebula using past and present Hubble images as well as imagery from other ground telescopes. The group found the central nebula is less circular than astronomers thought, and also contains more material than previously believed.
Previous telescope imagery lead scientists to believe that the nebula had a mysterious, unknown gaseous object in its center. Now, the Hubble telescope found the ring actually wraps around a blue, football-shaped “structure,” the protrudes out of the ring, hence the doughnut analogy. The blue gas is helium lit up by the radiation from the central white dwarf star.
The sun-like star ejected a load of hot gas some 4,000 years ago as it used up its hydrogen fuel and outer gas layers, causing its collapse. The fast-moving gas then slammed into other materials, forming a number of rings. Now, even though the nebula is expanding outward at a rate of 43,000 miles an hour, the center is expanding at a faster rate, so it's not much of a "bagel."
Sadly, the Ring Nebula, which is one light-year wide and 2,000 light-years from Earth, will not glow so beautifully forever. Eventually, if will expand so much that it fades into the rest of the universe. But there's no need to run out with your telescopes—this won’t happen for at least another 10,000 years.
Sadly though, I don’t think Doughnut Nebula has quite the same ring to it (pun intended) as its current name…
This story, "NASA says Ring Nebula is more like a jelly donut than a bagel, is obviously hungry" was originally published by TechHive.