Helix Nebula

Helix Nebula

Credit:

The universe is full of some very odd bodies. These must be appreciated on their own terms. This nebula may look a bit like a helix, or a slinky, but its real nature is considerably further from our own experiences than its name suggests. If we call it a giant gas cloud, as it is usually described, we must be careful how we understand that description. First, ‘giant’ is an understatement, at least in human terms. When an object has dimensions measured in light years, and a light year is about 6 trillion miles, we must admit that its size is beyond comprehension. And when we say ‘gas cloud’, we must not imagine that this is anything like the clouds we see every day. It is tenuous beyond imagining. If you were in the middle of it, you might not be aware of the presence of any gas at all, as its density is so tiny. Regardless, those with a certain appreciation for these things may call it beautiful.