Double Helix Nebula
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Double Helix Nebula

March 16, 2006

Astronomers report an unprecedented elongated double helix nebula near the center of our Milky Way galaxy, using observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The part of the nebula the astronomers observed stretches 80 light years in length.

"We see two intertwining strands wrapped around each other as in a DNA molecule," said Mark Morris, a UCLA professor of physics and astronomy, and lead author. "Nobody has ever seen anything like that before in the cosmic realm. Most nebulae are either spiral galaxies full of stars or formless amorphous conglomerations of dust and gas — space weather. What we see indicates a high degree of order."

The double helix nebula is approximately 300 light years from the enormous black hole at the center of the Milky Way. (The Earth is more than 25,000 light years from the black hole at the galactic center.)

The Spitzer Space Telescope, an infrared telescope, is imaging the sky at unprecedented sensitivity and resolution; Spitzer's sensitivity and spatial resolution were required to see the double helix nebula clearly.

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