It's a trick of the eye, but what a beautiful trick!
The visual effect starts with a sunlike star in the constellation Hydra, about 1,500 light-years from Earth. When that star was nearing the end of its life, it blew away its outer layers of gas to form a blue bubble in space — a planetary nebula known as Abell 33, or PN A66 33. The star fizzled out to become an unremarkable white dwarf near the center of the bubble.
But from Earth's point of view, a brighter star named HD 83535 is shining in the foreground, seemingly just at the edge of the bubble. Together, Abell 33 and HD 83535 create a sparkling diamond ring in space, as seen by the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile. For more about the image and the telescope, check out the ESO's image advisory.
First published April 9 2014, 5:51 AM
Alan Boyle is the science editor for NBC News Digital. He joined MSNBC.com at its inception in July 1996, and took on the science role in July 1997 with the landing of NASA's Mars Pathfinder probe. Boyle is responsible for coverage of science and space for NBCNews.com.
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Boyle joined NBCNews.com from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, where he was the foreign desk editor from 1987 to 1996. Boyle has won awards for science journalism from numerous organizations, including the National Academies, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Association of Science Writers. Boyle is the author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference." He lives in Bellevue, Wash.