This near-infrared view of the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293) was captured by the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) of the European Southern Observatory (ESO). The image reveals filaments of cold gas that radiate out of the centre of this famous planetary nebula (CERN Courier July/August 2003 p13). Located about 700 light-years away, in the constellation Aquarius, the Helix Nebula was formed from the ejection of the outer gas layers by a Sun-like star at the end of its life. The tiny blue dot at its centre is the remaining core of the dying star that collapses into a white dwarf. The shape of the ejecta with a diameter of about two light-years resembles a giant eye with an apparent size of about a third of the Moon.
Image credit: ESO/VISTA/J Emerson, with acknowledgments to Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit.

Source: ESO