The text and images in this article were originally published on November 5, 1998, and reflect information about NGC 3132 available at that time.
A GLOWING POOL OF LIGHT
NGC 3132 is a striking example of a planetary nebula. This expanding cloud of gas, surrounding a dying star, is known to amateur astronomers in the southern hemisphere as the “Eight-Burst” or the “Southern Ring” Nebula.
The name “planetary nebula” refers only to the round shape that many of these objects show when examined through a small visual telescope. In reality, these nebulae have little or nothing to do with planets, but are instead huge shells of gas ejected by stars as they near the ends of their lifetimes. NGC 3132 is nearly half a light-year in diameter, and at a distance of about 2000 light-years is one of the nearer known planetary nebulae. The gases are expanding away from the central star at a speed of 9 miles per second.
This image, captured by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, clearly shows two stars near the center of the nebula, a bright white one, and an adjacent, fainter companion to its upper right. (A third, unrelated star lies near the ...