Eye in the sky watches Earth in riveting Hubble photo

September 3, 2018, 10:43 a.m.
planetary nebula NGC 3918
Photo: ESA/Hubble and NASA

When staring into the night's sky, do you ever feel like someone is watching you back?

In a dramatic featured image from NASA, the planetary nebula NGC 3918 is described as a "celestial eye," which is the decidedly non-scientific term for its true composition: a cloud of colorful gas located in the constellation Centaurus, around 4,900 light-years from Earth.

Nebulae often come from the gas and dust dispersed by the explosion of a dying star. During that final phase, massive gas clouds are thrown from the surface of the star before it evolves as a white dwarf. The powerful ultraviolet radiation that emanates from the leftover star causes the surrounding gas "to glow like a fluorescent sign," says NASA. "These extraordinary and colorful planetary nebulas are among the most dramatic sights in the night sky, and often have strange and irregular shapes, which are not yet fully explained."

Like NGC 3918's eye-like shape. But blink and you'll miss a sight like this — relatively speaking. According to NASA, planetary nebulas exist for just a few tens of thousands of years.

The image, taken with Hubble’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, was released by NASA in 2010.

Related on MNN: 7 images of ghostly nebulae