Located 650 light-years away, in the constellation of Aquarius, the Helix Nebula also known as NGC 7293, is the result of a dying sun. It's central star was at one time a star that once looked a lot like our sun. It may have even had an entire solar system similar to our own spinning around it when it exploded into the spectacular planetary nebula we can see today. We may be witnessing what our own sun's future will look like.
Before the star died, its comets, and possibly planets, would have orbited the star in an orderly fashion. When the star ran out of hydrogen to burn, and blew off its outer layers, the icy bodies and outer planets would have been tossed about and into each other, kicking up an ongoing cosmic dust storm. Any inner planets in the system would have burned up or been swallowed as their dying star expanded.
As we look at the Helix Nebula some may wonder if there were any Earth-like planets billions of years ago making their journey around it's sun, maybe even thriving with life. If it did have life, were they intelligent? Did they gaze up at the stars in their own skies and wonder what was out there? Did they look through their own telescope-like devises and see planetary nebulae too? Did they some how continue their own species safely into space and populate other worlds?
If any life were around the star that made the Helix nebula we will probably never know. We will never know their story as it is now a long forgotten memory of the cosmos, scattering the dust of these worlds into the depths of space. Their story is just one of many in the universe as these amazing planetary nebulae populate our heavens in every direction. When we look at them we are looking back in time to the aftermath of their demise. Did any life survive and spread about the galaxy or are they forgotten memories of the cosmos?
This image was taken by astrophotographer Terry Hancock. You can view more images from Terry Hancock on his Flickr page as well as his Facebook page Down Under Observatory and his website www.downunderobservatory.com.