The intricate structure of the Helix Nebula, seen in January, is featured as one of National Geographic News editor's picks for the best space pictures of 2012. (See more nebula pictures.)
The rust-colored remains of a star like our sun, the Helix puffed up as it died and shed its shells of gas and dust into space.
In visible light, fine details in the Helix are largely obscured by dust. But the infrared view—snapped by the European Southern Observatory's VISTA telescope—can pierce this veil to see radiating filaments of cooler gas in the rings as well as a faint halo of thinly spread gas that extends to at least four light-years from the dead star's core.
Why We Love It
"This deep-space picture has an unusual sense of scale: The individual bright spots placed throughout the image give it a 3-D feeling of depth, while the fine detail hints at the huge size of this planetary nebula."—Chris Combs, news photo editor