This is my first attempt at photographing a deep sky object known as the ‘Ring Nebula’ (or M57). I’m going to be making some modifications to my telescope which will let me take much longer exposures (and get more detailed images), but this will definitely do for a quick first attempt - where ‘quick’ means that it took me a good 3-4 hours to set up, locate, photograph and process.
If you happen to have a 2.5 billion dollar space telescope, such as Hubble - you can take a much better photograph, such as this one.
The Ring Nebula is the ejected shell of a dying star, over 2,300 light years away. As the star ejected its shell it collapsed into a faint ‘white dwarf’. You can just about see the white dwarf remnant in the picture I have taken - and you can see it very clearly in the Hubble image.
The Ring Nebula we see is around 6000-8000 years old. The dying star that formed it must have lived for at least 30 million years. This is because bigger stars die sooner and bigger stars create ‘neutron stars’ and ‘black holes’, rather than white dwarfs.
In a few tens of thousands of years, the Ring Nebula will have expanded so far, and thus faded so much, that it blends into the ‘interstellar medium’ (the background of space). What we observe from Earth is, on an astronomical time scale, a majestic and incredibly brief flash.
- If, on a scale model, the distance between the Earth and the Sun was 1cm, the distance between the Earth and the Ring Nebula would be, roughly, the distance from London to Rome.
- If you created a timeline for the star which formed the Ring Nebula (from birth through to the Ring Nebula fading), about 99.9% of your timeline would be the star (just being a star) and about 0.1% of it would be the Ring Nebula.