Space observatory releases stunning image of a giant star’s ‘ghost’

Space observatory releases stunning image of a giant star’s ‘ghost’

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The aftermath of a large star’s explosive death can be seen in an image released Monday by the European Southern Observatory, which shows immense filaments of bright shiny gas that were beamed into space during the supernova.

Before the star exploded at the end of its life cycle, it is believed to have had a mass at least eight times greater than our sun. It was located in our Milky Way galaxy about 800 light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Vela. A light-year is the distance light travels in a year, 5.9 trillion miles (9.5 trillion km).

The creepy image shows gas clouds that look like pink and orange tendrils in the filters used by the astronomers, covering an expanse about 600 times larger than our solar system.

“The filamentous structure is the gas expelled by the supernova explosion that created this nebula. We see the inner material of a star as it expands in space. When there are denser areas, some of the supernova material shocks with the surrounding gas and creates some of the filamentous structure,” said Bruno Leibundgut, an astronomer with the European Southern Observatory (TO BE).

The image shows the supernova remnants about 11,000 years after the explosion, Leibundgut said.

“Most of the material that shines is due to hydrogen atoms being excited. The beauty of such images is that we can immediately see what material was in a star,” Leibundgut added. “The material built up over many millions of years is now being exposed and will cool down over millions of years until it will eventually form new stars. These supernovae produce many elements — calcium or iron — that we carry in our own bodies. This is a spectacular part of the path in the evolution of stars.”

The star itself has been reduced to an incredibly densely spinning object called a pulsar in the wake of the supernova. A pulsar is a type of neutron star – one of the most compact celestial bodies in existence. It rotates 10 times per second.

The image represented a mosaic of observations made with a wide-angle camera called OmegaCAM at the VLT Survey Telescope, hosted at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. The data for the image was collected from 2013 to 2016, according to the ESO.


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