X-ray: NASA/CXC/Rutgers/G.Cassam-Chenaï, J.Hughes et al.; Radio: NRAO/AUI/NSF/GBT/VLA/Dyer, Maddalena & Cornwell; Optical: Middlebury College/F.Winkler, NOAO/AURA/NSF/CTIO Schmidt & DSS

An expanding translucent bubble is all that remains of a star in this combinded image from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other observatories.

Explore the bumps, ribbons and sheets throughout this image of SN 1006. What stories or images do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

In the spring of 1006, night-time observers in China, Japan, Europe, the Arab world and the Americas documented a new light in the sky. To this day the supernova of 1006 is the brightest stellar event in recorded history. Reports from China and Arab astronomers report the star was more than twice as big as Venus and objects cast shadows. While this new “guest star” glowed for months, ancient observers had no way of knowing that a star had exploded. This was a different type of supernova. Instead of a massive star collapsing and exploding, a white dwarf star captured mass from a companion star. When enough material lands on the surface of a white dwarf it becomes unstable and explodes. White dwarf stars are the burned out cores of stars that were once like our Sun. After billions of years fusing hydrogen atoms in the core, the star runs out of fuel. When this occurs, the star puffs off its outer layers and all that remains is the white-hot core. In this case, the white dwarf probably orbited a much larger red giant star.

SN 1006 is found about 7,000 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Lupus, the Wolf. The remnant of the supernova of 1006 was not found until 1965 when astronomers using found that a previously known radio source was surrounded by a large shell. We now know that the shell extends for about 65 light-years. The shell is so large that the Hubble Space Telescope can image only parts of the supernova remnant.

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