WHO: The Cat's Eye, officially known as NGC 6543,
is a so-called planetary nebula, a glowing shell of gas
and dust that forms when Sun-like stars die.
WHAT: Planetary nebulas actually have nothing to do
with planets-the name was coined hundreds of years
ago because these objects looked like planets through
small optical telescopes. Rather, a planetary nebula is
a stage of life that our Sun will experience billions of
years from now.
WHERE: The Cat's Eye is found 3,000 light years from
Earth in the middle of the constellation Draco, which
is Latin for "dragon." Draco is found high in the
WHEN: Stars like the Sun live for billions of years,
but their phase as a planetary nebula lasts only a few
hundred thousand years.
HOW: The spectacular filamentary structures in planetary
nebulas come from the outer layers that have
been shed by the dying star then sculpted by intense
radiation from the hot central star (bright white dot in
middle) that will eventually become a white dwarf.
WHY: It is important to understand the details of how
stars disperse elements made in their interiors. These
elements, such as carbon and nitrogen, could be crucial
for the formation of planets and the evolution of life.
from NASA's Hubble