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VLT Pulls Dumbbell Nebula Out Of Darkness
The Dumbbell Nebula is an ordinary planetary nebula located in the constellation known as The Fox (Vulpecula). Astronomers think it's about 1,200 light-years away from Earth and our Solar System.
The Dumbbell Nebula, also known as M27 or NGC 6853, was described first by French astronomer and comet hunter Charles Messier who found it in 1764. He gave it that number 27 in his famous catalogue of sky objects.
Despite its class as a planetary nebula, the Dumbbell Nebula has nothing to do with planets. A nebula is a diffuse mass of interstellar dust or gas, or both, visible as luminous patches or areas of darkness depending on the way the gas and dust absorb or reflect radiation.
The Dumbbell Nebula consists of very rarified gas that has been ejected from a hot central star. That star now is in one of the last stages of its evolution.
The gas atoms in the Dumbbell Nebula are heated ('excited') by the intense ultraviolet radiation from the star. The atoms emit strong electromagnetic energy at certain wavelengths.
Astrophotography. The first of four telescopes in the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) atop Mount Paranel in Chile's Atacama desert recorded a spectacular image of the Dumbbell Nebula in 1998. The VLT photographed the nebula through three different filters. Combined, the three views show the structure of the nebula in approximately-true colours.
At 8.2 metres in diameter, the Very Large Telescope instruments are the largest single mirror telescopes in the world. Construction of the final three VLT telescopes is expected to be complete by the year 2000.
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