The bigger the star, the shorter its life. When a star significantly heavier than our Sun runs out of fuel, it collapses and blows itself apart in a catastrophic supernova explosion. A supernova releases so much light that it can outshine a whole galaxy of stars put together. The exploding star sweeps out a huge bubble in its surroundings, fringed with actual stellar debris along with material swept up by the blast wave. This glowing, brightly-coloured shell of gas forms a nebula that astronomers call a ‘supernova remnant’. Such a remnant can remain visible long after the initial explosion fades away.
A series of three new images taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope reveals magnificent sections of one of the most spectacular supernova remnants in the sky – the Veil Nebula. The entire shell spans about 3 degrees, corresponding to about 6 full moons. The small regions captured in the new Hubble images provide stunning close-ups of the Veil. Fascinating smoke-like wisps of gas are all that remain visible of what was once a Milky Way star.
Scientists estimate that the supernova explosion occurred some 5-10,000 years ago and could have been witnessed and recorded by ancient civilizations. These would have seen a star increase in brightness to roughly the brightness of the crescent Moon.
The intertwined rope-like filaments of gas in the Veil Nebula result from the enormous amounts of energy released as the fast-moving debris from the explosion ploughs into its surroundings and creates shock fronts. These shocks, driven by debris moving at 600,000 kilometres per hour, heat the gas to millions of degrees. It is the subsequent cooling of this material that produces the brilliantly coloured glows.
Like the larger scale ground-based observations, the high-resolution Hubble images display two characteristic features: sharp filaments and diffuse emission. These correspond to two different viewing geometries: sharp filaments correspond to an edge-on view of a shock front, and diffuse emission corresponds to a face-on view of it.
The Hubble images of the Veil Nebula are striking examples of how processes that take place hundreds of light-years away can sometimes resemble effects we see around us in our daily life. The structures have similarities to the patterns formed by the interplay of light and shadow on the bottom of a swimming pool, rising smoke or ragged cirrus clouds.
Why are astronomers interested in studying supernovae and their remnants? Supernovae are extremely important for understanding our own Milky Way. Although only a few stars per century in our Galaxy will end their lives in this spectacular way, these explosions are responsible for making all chemical elements heavier than iron in the Universe. Many elements, such as copper, mercury, gold, iodine and lead that we see around us here on Earth today were forged in these violent events billions of years ago. The expanding shells of supernova remnants were mixed with other material in the Milky Way and became the raw material for new generations of stars and planets.
The chemical elements that constitute the Earth, the planets and animals we see around us – and as a matter of fact our very selves – were built deep inside ancient stars and in the supernova explosions that result in the nebula we are seeing here. The green in the grass and the red of our blood are indeed the colours of stardust.
The Veil Nebula is a prototypical middle-aged supernova remnant, and is an ideal laboratory for studying the physics of supernova remnants: it is fairly nearby, has a large angular size and has a relatively small amount of foreground extinction.
Also known as Cygnus Loop, the Veil Nebula is located in the constellation of Cygnus, the Swan. It is about 1,500 light-years away from Earth. One of the most remarkable parts of the remnant is the so-called Witch’s Broom Nebula (seen to the right in the overview image). The bright blue star – dubbed 52 Cygni and unrelated to the supernova explosion – can be observed with the naked eye on a clear summer’s night.
The Hubble images were taken with Hubble's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2). The colour is produced by composite of three different images. The different colours indicate emission from different kinds of atoms excited by the shock: blue shows oxygen, green shows sulphur, and red shows hydrogen.
Lars Christensen | alfa
APEX takes a glimpse into the heart of darkness
25.05.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie
First chip-scale broadband optical system that can sense molecules in the mid-IR
24.05.2018 | Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science
The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.
Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...
A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.
The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...
At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.
At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...
There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?
At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
25.05.2018 | Event News
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
25.05.2018 | Event News
25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering
25.05.2018 | Life Sciences