The strange S-shape that gives the Spiral Planetary Nebula its common name is seen clearly in this composite image.
Spiral Planetary Nebula by Robert Gendler. A planetary nebula is formed from the gas blown out by a sun-like star toward the end of its life. By this stage the star has used up its hydrogen and is burning helium instead, its core has contracted and its outer gas blown out to form a red giant. When this fuel is exhausted, complex processes eject huge shells of gas. Normally this is seen as an almost symmetrical shape, but here interactions in the expanding gas have resulted in this spiral shape. This image was assembled from data gathered by the orbiting 2.4m Hubble Space Telescope, the 8.1m Gemini North Telescope in Hawai’i and the photographer’s own 14.5” telescope.
Credit: Robert Gendler Astronomy, Avon, Connecticut, USA.