Picture of the Day: NASA Captures Messier 27's Infrared Light

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Taken by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, this image shows infrared light given off by Messier 27, or the Dumbbell Nebula as it is colloquially known. Messier 27 is officially named for Charles Messier, the French astronomer that discovered it in 1764 and added it as the 27th member of his nebulous objects catalog. "Although he did not know it at the time, this was the first in a class of objects, now known as planetary nebulae, to make it into the catalog," according to NASA.

"Planetary nebulae, historically named for their resemblance to gas-giant planets, are now known to be the remains of stars that once looked a lot like our sun," NASA explains. "When sun-like stars die, they puff out their outer gaseous layers, which are heated by the hot core of the dead star, called a white dwarf, and shine with infrared and visible-light colors." Adds NASA, "Our own sun will blossom into a planetary nebula when it dies in about five billion years."

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Image: NASA.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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