Powerful telescope captures breathtaking aftermath of Giant Star’s death
It’s Halloween and space agencies aren’t going to let us forget it. NASA Twitter handles have been swapped.
NASA Exoplanets is now NASA Hexoplanets and NASA Goddard is now NASA Ghoul-dard. The James Webb Space Telescope has its heavenly Pillars of Creation portrait hand off something of a hellish atmosphere. And on Mondays, the European Southern Observatory finish the spooky drama with a photo of what it calls the ghostly remains of a giant star.
It’s a whopping 554 million-pixel image that depicts a cosmic wonder called the Vela supernova remnant, in translucent lavender, piercing pale blue, and stringy sunset colors. In the Halloween spirit, may I remind you that a supernova remnant isn’t just the leftover corpse of a star. It’s sort of an equivalent of chopping up that corpse and spreading its pieces across space.
Glittering guts everywhere.
Technically, this scene consists of several observations produced by a wide-angle camera called OmegaCAM, which has an astonishing capacity of 268 million pixels. Several filters on the device allow the beautiful tones of the image to show through – four were used specifically on Vela to create a color scheme of magenta, blue, green and red.
To be clear, this means that the image has been colored in. In space, the remnant probably doesn’t look quite as rainbow-like. It’s just easier to dissect different astronomical aspects of space photos when we have some colorful dividers. But what hasn’t improved technologically is the way Vela — named after a southern constellation which translates to “The Sails” — looks structurally.
Those almost 3D bubbles of dust and gas are real. Each translucent stripe is expected to be accurate. And the story this tells of the giant star’s eventual demise is, presumably, true.
Nevertheless, if you ask me, this ghost is not that scary. It’s amazing.
It is one of the mind-blowing creations of our universe
About 11,000 years ago, a massive star died, causing a powerful explosion that sent shockwaves through its outer layers into the surrounding gas in the region.
That perturbed gas compressed over time, creating the threaded structures we see in the image. In addition, the energy released during the event forced the spots to shine brightly, casting an ethereal glow over the entire landscape.
As for the dead star itself, the root of this blast, it’s now a neutron star — a stellar body. so incredibly close that a tablespoon of it would be roughly equal to the weight of Mount Everest. ESO also explains that this particular neutron star is even more extreme than the average star.
It is a pulsar, which means that it rotates on its own axis more than 10 times per second. I don’t even want to think how many times it’s turned around since I started writing this article.
And “just 800 light-years from Earth,” ESO said in a press release about the image, “this dramatic supernova remnant is one of the closest we know.” But since one light-year represents the distance light can travel in a one-year span, I wouldn’t quite say it traverses our cosmic backyard.
I mean, not that I would care if we could physically see this beautiful “ghost” from here on Earth — of course, assuming its radiation (and other dangerous material) doesn’t haunt us until we catch a glimpse.
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