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The Infrared Helix

The Helix Nebula, which is composed of gaseous shells and disks puffed out by a dying sunlike star, exhibits complex structure on the smallest visible scales. The above picture was taken three colors on infrared light by the 4.1-meter Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile. The "cometary knots" at the inner edge of the nebula are caused by the central star's ultraviolet radiation "blowing" on clumps of molecular material and generating tails.

Click here to see the Helix Nebula in visible light.