The Eye of God / Helix Nebula in Outer Space

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Viral image via forwarded email:

Eye of God
Netlore Archive: NASA photo of the Helix Nebula taken by the Hubble Space Telescope has been labeled the "Eye of God" by frequent forwarders. Image: NASA, WIYN, NOAO, ESA, Hubble Helix Nebula Team, M. Meixner (STScI), T.A. Rector (NRAO)

Text example #1:

Email contributed by a reader:

Subject: Fw: Eye of God

This is a picture taken by NASA with the Hubble telescope. They are referring to it as the "Eye of God". I thought it was beautiful and worth sharing.

Text example #2:

Email contributed by a reader:

Dear All:

This photo is a very rare one, taken by NASA.
This kind of event occurs once in 3000 years.

This photo has done miracles in many lives.
Make a wish ... you have looked at the eye of God.
Surely you will see the changes in your life within a day.
Whether you believe it or not, don't keep this mail with you.
Pass this at least to 7 persons.

This is a picture NASA took with the hubble telescope, called "The Eye of God." Too awesome to delete. It is worth sharing.

During the next 60 seconds, Stop whatever you are doing, and take this opportunity. (Literally it is only One minute!)

Just send this to people and see what happens. Do not break this, please.


This is an authentic photograph (actually, a composite of images) taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona. It was featured on NASA's website as an Astronomy Picture of the Day in May 2003 and thereafter reproduced on a number of websites under the title "The Eye of God" (though I have found no evidence that NASA has ever referred to it as such). The awe-inspiring image has also been featured on magazine covers and in articles about space imagery.

What it actually depicts is the so-called Helix Nebula, described by astronomers as "a trillion-mile-long tunnel of glowing gasses." At its center is dying star which has ejected masses of dust and gas to form tentacle-like filaments stretching toward an outer rim composed of the same material. Our own sun may look like this in several billion years.

See also: A photo purporting to show a real cloud formation described by some as "the hands of God" is also circulating online, though in this case the viral image, first shared in 2004, is a hoax.

Update: Another giant "eye in space" was photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope on May 4, 2009. In this case, the image, one of the last taken with the Hubble's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, captured the Kohoutek 4-55 planetary nebula in the constellation Cygnus.

Hoax Quiz: Can YOU Spot the Fake Photos?

More spacey urban legends:
Photo of "Double Sunset" on Mars?
Did NASA Scientists Confirm the Biblical "Missing Day in Time"?

Sources and further reading:

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day: The Helix Nebula
Info about Hubble Space Telescope photo of the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293)

Iridescent Glory of Nearby Planetary Nebula
National Optical Astronomy Observatory press release, 10 May 2003