Helix Nebula Produces Cosmic Fireworks DisplayS

The United States' independence day is over for the year, but a new image of one of Earth's cosmic neighbors reveals an explosive spectacle. One of the closest nebulae to us displays dramatic firework-like knots when viewed in the infrared.

The knots look like explosive fireworks, but they are actually pockets of matter left over from an exploding star. The comet-like tails are a result of streaming particles and electromagnetic energy.

The scale is also a bit larger than the average firework: the explosion that caused these knots took place over tens of thousands of years, and the knots are each billions of miles across.

The infrared radiation from the hydrogen in these knots makes them clearly visible to the Subaru Telescope. It's an infrared camera with a large field of view. Astronomers from Japan and the U.K. are working together to see what these knots teach them about what happens to dying stars. They are publishing results in the Astrophysical Journal in August.

Fireworks Display In The Helix Nebula [via ScienceDaily]