Sunday, August 13, 2006

A once-in-3000-year view of the "Eye of God?"

A cousin of mine forwarded me an email with the above picture and the following text:

Dear All:
This photo is a very rare one, taken by NASA. This kind of event occurs once in 3000 years. This photo has done miracles in many lives. Make a wish .. you have looked at the eye of God. Surely you will see the changes in your life within a day. Whether you believe it or not, don't keep this mail with you. Pass this at least to 7 persons. This is a picture NASA took with the Hubbell telescope. Called "The Eye of God."

First, this is not a once-in-3000-year occurrence. This is a picture of the Helix Nebula, which was discovered sometime before 1825 and has been visible ever since. The nebula is what is known as a "planetary nebula," and is formed when a star like the sun runs out of nuclear fuel and sheds its outer layers. The hot furnace of the dying star lights up the shed gas, producing a planetary nebula. Other famous planetary nebula include the Ring Nebula, the dumbbell Nebula, and the Cat's Eye Nebula.

And, as far as I can tell, no astronomer has ever referred to this as the "Eye of God." Everyone I know calls this the "Helix Nebula," it's proper name. In fact, if you do a search for images of the "Eye of God," several different planetary nebulae show up.

This is just further evidence that you need to be careful when someone asks you to forward an email to everybody you know -- I'm glad my cousin asked before forwarding it to her whole email list. Likewise, if you ever have a question about an email you've received talking about something astronomical, feel free to ask!

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