Posted by: Kash Farooq | January 6, 2011

Eye Candy: The human eye and the Helix Nebula

Warning: this blog post is just a gratuitous excuse to use some stunning photographs.

I came across some amazing extreme close-up photographs of the human eye. They are part of a collection called “Your beautiful eyes”.

Human eye close-up

Photograph by by Suren Manvelyan Used with permission.

The photographs are by Armenian photographer Suren Manvelyan. I urge you to visit his on-line gallery to see his other collections (“Frost”, “Water” and “Old Armenian Ladders” are particularly impressive). He is a very talented photographer.

Just for the hell of it, here are a couple more:

Human eye close-up

Photograph by by Suren Manvelyan Used with permission.

Human eye close-up

Photograph by by Suren Manvelyan Used with permission.

Then, the budding astronomer in me started thinking – these photographs reminded me of something.

I hope Suren (who has a PhD in Theoretical Physics and teaches astronomy) appreciates my attempt to crowbar astronomy into this blog post; some of his photographs reminded me of the Helix Nebula.

Spitzer image of Helix Nebula

Helix Nebula, NGC7293, infrared image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.

Unsurprisingly, the Internet meme “The Eye of God” quickly appeared to describe the Helix Nebula and images were passed in emails with this name (along with promises that miracles will happen if you forward the emails on).

And now for my impression of the Bad Astromomer – i.e. here is the sciencey bit.

The above image is an infrared image taken by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. And yes, it looks like a giant eye.

The Helix Nebula is a planetary nebula about 700 light years away. It is about 2.5 light years wide; i.e. it’s big: 2 × 1013 kilometres wide.

Planetary nebulae are nothing to do with planets. They were named this way because when they were discovered in the 18th century astronomers thought they looked like gas giant planets like Jupiter.

You get these objects when stars are dying. Towards the end of their lives, certain types of stars (depending on their starting mass) start shedding outer gaseous layers to produce these beautiful structures. Our own Sun will do this in a few billion years or so.

If you look carefully, or click through to Commons Wikimedia page to see a bigger image, you can see a tiny white dot in the middle of the “eye”. This is what remains of the star – it is now a type of star called a white dwarf. This star may now only be about the size of the Earth. However, it will be super-dense: 1 tonne per cm3!

And once again, just for the hell of it, here is another image of the Helix Nebula:

Hubble image of Helix Nebula

Hubble image of Helix Nebula, NGC 7293 or “The Eye of God”

And that concludes my latest attempt to entertain and educate at the same time. And show you some fantastic images.



  1. I bloody love your blog Kash. Nice amalgamation of the stunning eye photos and astronomy too. Nice. Very Nice 😀

  2. Agree with Dellybean and please take the ‘just’ out of the header as their is absolutely no need to be apologetic about the content. What I would really love to see one day is super HD slow-mo of an eye reacting to light so that we can see all of those wonderful muscle fibres contracting and relaxing. (Sorry, have a skeptical fetish about eyes as they are my nuclear option with ID proponents)

  3. This is really interesting to compare with Helix nebulae, particularly with the first picture!

  4. one of the rare beauties youll ever see in the universe

  5. Here are the all eyes


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