Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The "Eye of God" in Outer Space

Emailed NASA photo taken by the Hubble Space Telescope has been labeled 'The Eye of God' by frequent forwarders.

Description: Emailed photo
Circulating since: May 2003
Status: Authentic NASA image

Email example contributed by A. Lieb, July 27, 2003:

Subject: Fw: Eye of God

This is a picture taken by NASA with the Hubble telescope. They are referring to it as the "Eye of God". I thought it was beautiful and worth sharing.

The Eye of God

Analysis: This is an authentic photograph (actually, a composite of images) taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona. It was featured on NASA's website as an Astronomy Picture of the Day in May 2003 and thereafter reproduced on a number of websites under the title "The Eye of God" (though I have found no evidence that NASA has ever referred to it as such). The awe-inspiring image has also been featured on magazine covers and in articles about space imagery.

What it actually depicts is the so-called Helix Nebula, described by astronomers as "a trillion-mile-long tunnel of glowing gases." At its center is dying star which has ejected masses of dust and gas to form tentacle-like filaments stretching toward an outer rim composed of the same material. Our own sun may look like this in several billion years.

Update: Another giant "eye in space" was photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope on May 4, 2009. In this case the image, one of the last taken with the Hubble's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, captured the Kohoutek 4-55 planetary nebula in the constellation Cygnus.

Image Credit: NASA, WIYN, NOAO, ESA, Hubble Helix Nebula Team, M. Meixner (STScI), & T. A. Rector (NRAO).

1 comment: