NASA Captures Image of Dying Star

Posted on October 4, 2012

Helix Nebula

This is an image of the Helix nebula, which is located 650 light-years away in the constellation of Aquarius. The image is a combined image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX). Helix nebula is the remains of a dying star, which is also called a planetary nebulae. A white dwarf is located at its center.

NASA says in the image release that a teaspoon of material from the incredibly dense white dwarf located at the center of the planetary nebulae would weigh as much as a few elephants.

When the hydrogen fuel for the fusion reaction runs out, the star turns to helium for a fuel source, burning it into an even heavier mix of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen. Eventually, the helium will also be exhausted, and the star dies, puffing off its outer gaseous layers and leaving behind the tiny, hot, dense core, called a white dwarf. The white dwarf is about the size of Earth, but has a mass very close to that of the original star; in fact, a teaspoon of a white dwarf would weigh as much as a few elephants!
NASA says the white dwarf star itself is a "tiny white pinprick right at the center of the nebula." You can get a better view of the center of the nebula by looking at the full-size image on

Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

More from Science Space & Robots