It Sure Looks Beautiful Inside the Ring Nebula

The Ring Nebula is a common image in astronomy, but new images from Hubble reveal something rather strange inside the cloud of swirling gas.

These new images, captured by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3, reveal that the glowing gas shroud is actually a rather different shape to what's previously been observed. Robert O'Dell of Vanderbilt University in Nashville explains:

"With Hubble's detail, we see a completely different shape than what's been thought about historically for this classic nebula. The new Hubble observations show the nebula in much clearer detail, and we see things are not as simple as we previously thought. The nebula is not like a bagel, but rather, it's like a jelly doughnut, because it's filled with material in the middle."

And what a pretty little jelly doughnut it is. The researchers hope that by studying the Ring Nebula's fate in such detail, they'll be able to better understand the sun's demise in 6 billion years—not that they'll be around to check their answers. [NASA]