“Eye of God” made of Comet’s Dust

Scientists using the Spitzer space telescope discovered that the dust surrounding the Helix nebula, also known as the “eye of god” due to its unique eye-like appearance, is the result of comets smashing into each other in the outer fringes of a dead star.

Spitzer’s new view of the Helix nebula shows colors as seen in infrared. The dusty dead star appears as a dot in the middle of theHelix Nebula (also known as NGC 7293) spans about 2.5 light-years and is located about 650 light-years away from earth in the constellation Aquarius. The Helix Nebula was discovered by Karl Ludwig Harding in the beginning of the 19’th century.

The Nebula was created when the outer gasses of its star expelled into space as the star ended its life violently. According to astronomers when the star died, expelling its outer layers, dust in the system should have been blown away, but instead a dusty disk was observed creating the familiar eye-like shape. 

Where is the dust coming from? According to the astronomers, it is most likely being freshly churned up by comets smashing into each other in the outer fringes of the dead star (now white dwarf) system. A few million years ago, before the white dwarf formed, when it was still a lively star like our Sun, its comets and possibly planets would have been in stable orbits, harmoniously traveling around the star. But when the star died, any inner planets would have burned up or been swallowed as the star expanded. Outer planets, asteroids and comets would have been jostled about and thrown into each other’s paths.  

According to new observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, a bunch of comets are colliding and kicking up dust around a dead star which is then heated up by radiation from the dead star’s hot core making it glow in vivid colors. Sadly, the eye of god won’t last long. In about 10,000 years, its shiny clouds will fade, leaving the white dwarf and its circling comets to cool down alone in empty space.  

More information on the recent findings could be found on Spitzer’s Space Telescope website.