The Helix Nebula has been shot for the first time in infrared revealing amazing cometary knots and never-before-seen details of the surrounding star.
The Helix Nebula, 700 light years from Earth, is evolving to become a white dwarf star, and here it is in bright new colours never before seen.
The tiny blue dot seen at the centre of the image is the nebula, as captured by ESO's 4.1-metre telescope VISTA telescope, at the Paranal Observatory in Chile.
The new image, shot with infrared light, enables us to see strips of cold nebular gas which are invisible in when shot with visible light. The rich and colourful shot brings the background to the fore, showing an array of background stars and galaxies.
The Helix Nebula lies in the constellation of Aquarius which can be seen in the January night sky in the northern hemisphere.
The Helix was formed when a star like the Sun was nearing the end of its life and slowly released the layers of gas that then formed the nebula.
Material from the nebula spreads out to about four light-years.
The remarkable shot also reveals fine structure in the nebula’s rings. They might appear tiny in a photo, but these small details, or cometary knots, are just as big as our Solar System.
Cometary knots are shielded from the dying star's high-energy radiation by dust and molecular gas, and remain one of the next big mysteries to be solved.