Science

A powerful telescope captures the breathtaking aftermath of the death of a giant star

A powerful telescope captures the breathtaking aftermath of the death of a giant star

It’s Halloween, and the space organizations don’t plan on letting us forget it. NASA’s Twitter handles have been replaced.

NASA Exoplanets is now NASA Hexoplanets and NASA Goddard is now NASA Ghoul-dard. The James Webb Space Telescope has updated its a portrait of the heavenly pillars of creation to give away something like a hellish atmosphere. And on Monday is the European Southern Observatory rounding off the spooky drama with a photo of what he calls the ghostly remnants of a giant star.

It’s an incredible 554 million pixel image that depicts the cosmic wonder, called the Vela supernova remnant, in translucent lavender, piercing pale blue, and wiry sunset colors. In the spirit of Halloween, may I remind you that the supernova remnant is not just the leftover body of the star. It’s like cutting up that corpse and spreading its pieces across the universe.

Glitter guts everywhere.

Full-size version of ESO’s Vela Remnant image.

ESO/VPHAS+ team. Credit: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit.

Technically, this scene consists of several observations produced by a wide-field camera called OmegaCAM, which has an astonishing 268 million pixels. The device’s various filters are what make the picture’s brilliant hues possible – four were used on the Vela specifically to create a magenta, blue, green and red color scheme.

To be clear, this means that the image is colored. Out in space, the rest probably doesn’t look so rainbow-like. It’s simply easier to analyze the various astronomical aspects of space images when we have some colorful dividers. But what hasn’t been technologically improved is the way Vela – named after the southern constellation which translates to “Sails” – looks structurally.

8 images show the progress as the team decoded what the rest of Vela looks like.  Some are black and white.

In this image progression, you can see how scientists used OmegaCAM to image the rest of Vela. You can also see how the image looks before colorization.

ESO/M Kornmesser, VPHAS+ team. Credit: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit.

Those almost 3D bubbles of dust and gas are real. Each transparent string is expected to be precise. And the story that this tells about the final death of this giant star is probably true.

However, if you ask me, this ghost isn’t all that scary. It’s stunning.

It is one of the most amazing creations of our universe

About 11,000 years ago, a massive star died and set off a powerful explosion that caused its outermost layers to send a shock wave into the region’s surrounding gas.

That disturbed gas compressed over time and created the spiral structures we see in the picture. Additionally, whatever energy was released during the event caused the points to glow, casting an ethereal glow over the entire landscape.

As for the dead star itself, the root of this detonation, it is now a neutron star — a stellar body so unimaginably dense that one tablespoon would be equal to the weight of Mount Everest. ESO also explains that this particular neutron star is even more extreme than average.

12 boxes highlight clips of the rest of Vela's greatest moments.

Some highlights of ESO’s image of Vela.

ESO/VPHAS+ team. Credit: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit.

It is a pulsar, which means it rotates on its axis more than 10 times every second. I don’t even want to think about how many times he’s turned around since I started writing this article.

And “at just 800 light-years from Earth,” ESO said in a press release about the image, “this dramatic supernova remnant is one of the closest known to us.” But since a light year is the distance light can travel in the span of a year, I wouldn’t exactly say it crosses our cosmic backyard.

I mean, not that I’d care if we could physically see this beautiful “ghost” from here on Earth—assuming, of course, that its radiation (and other dangerous material) doesn’t haunt us before we take a look.





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