Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team
Explore the red and churning bubble in this image. What stories or images do you see? Leave a comment below.
The star that created Puppis A exploded about 3,700 years ago. Perhaps humans on Earth saw this new bright star in the sky. If they did, they left no record of it. Supernovae, like the Crab Nebula, form when stars many times more massive than our Sun reach the end of their life. These huge stars burn through their hydrogen fuel within just a few million years. When the fuel runs out, the star expands. But gravity pulls the star back together. This heats the star to a point where a runaway fusion reaction occurs. It becomes unstable and the star explodes. So much energy in heat and light is released in this explosion that for short periods of time, the star can outshine an entire galaxy. All that remains is a dense and tiny neutron star surrounded by an expanding cloud of gas and dust. Our Sun is not heavy enough to end this way. It will reach the end of its life in about 4 billion years and become a planetary nebula.
Explore the red dusty cloud. If we hopped in our starship and zipped off at the speed of light, it would take about 100 years to cross this gas cloud. The expanding shockwave from the explosion slams into the quiet dust surrounding the star and heats up the dust enough to cause it to glow. Ultraviolet radiation from the hot neutron star also excites atoms within the cloud causing it to glow. The green colored gas in the image is cool dust left over from a much earlier supernova explosion. This explosion occurred about 12,000 years ago and was even closer to Earth.
Puppis A is one of the brightest X-ray objects in the night sky. It is about 6,500 light-years from Earth toward the large constellation of Puppis. Puppis is the poop deck of the mythical ship used by Jason and the Argonauts. It was part of a larger constellation known as Argo Navis. Nicolas Louis de Lacaille broke the constellation into three parts in 1752; Puppis, Carina, the keel, and Vela, the sails.