Monkey Face

Credit: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Do you see a monkey face looking up? Or sparks and smoke left over from a fireworks display? The colorful filaments seen in this NASA Hubble Space Telescope image of N49 are all that’s left of a supernova explosion that took place thousands of years ago in the Large Magellanic Cloud. This supernova remnant is called N 49, or DEM L 190. Inside these sheets of glowing star debris lies a powerful, spinning neutron star called a pulsar. Pulsars give off regular pulses of energy like the ticking of a very precise clock. After the supernova blows off the outer layers of the star, it collapses under its own gravity. The star collapses so much that the protons and electrons spinning around the atoms of the star combine to form neutrons. A neutron star is very dense. Imagine our entire Sun packed into an area of just 20 kilometers (12 miles) in diameter! Gravity is very strong on a neutron star. On Earth, a spoonful of neutron star material would weigh billions of tons. The magnetic field of N 49 is super strong, trillions of times stronger than Earth’s, putting it in special class of bizarre celestial objects called magnetars.

Explore the fine filaments of N 49. The filaments show the supernova’s blast wave as it travels through star clouds in the Large Magellanic Cloud. As the fast-moving star material slams into the relatively calm gas and dust of the star clouds, it causes the gas to heat up and glow. Each element glows with a different color.

The LMC is a small, irregular galaxy about 160,000 light-years from Earth. The Magellanic Clouds were described and named after the explorer Ferdinand Magellan. The clouds, visible in the southern hemisphere sky, were well known to ancient peoples. Astronomers used to believe that both the Large Magellanic and Small Magellanic Clouds were companion galaxies to our Milky Way Galaxy. Recent findings, however, show that the nearby galaxies are just passing by.

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