Posts Tagged ‘supernova’

Cassiopeian Dragon

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

A dragon lurks in the vast spaces between constellations Cassiopeia and Cepheus in the image from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer.

Explore the cool dense clouds of gas and dust. A curvy dragon-shaped nebula rises in the middle of the image. What shapes and patterns does your imagination create? Leave a note below.

When we look up into this part of the sky at night we see dark space between the stars of Cassiopeia and Cepheus, named after the ancient Queen and King of Ethiopia in Greek mythology. But with WISE’s infrared telescopes, the cool gas and dust of the region glow brightly.

Dozens of nebulae are spread across this image. And within, massive stars have blown bubbles in the clouds. These nebulae and bubbles are hundreds of light-years across. As these huge stars blaze into existence, their blistering radiation and strong solar winds push the gas and dust away, clearing an area for the star to glow. Astronomers find these huge stars interesting but as the gas and dust is compressed at the edge of the bubbles new stars pop into being. Each part of this image contains a piece of a puzzle that together gives astronomers a complete idea of how a star is created. The radiation from the new stars cause the clouds to glow brightly in this infrared image.

Also visible in the image is the remains of an explosion that destroyed a sun. A supernova blazed in this part of the sky. Astronomer Tycho Brahe witnessed this explosion in 1572 AD.

Baubles and Flowers

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ.Potsdam/L.Oskinova et al & ESA/XMM-Newton; Optical: AURA/NOAO/CTIO/Univ.Potsdam/L.Oskinova et al

A glowing bauble highlights a star-forming flower in this image from NASA‘s Chandra X-ray Observatory.

Explore the faint bubble and veils of gas and dust in the Small Magellanic Cloud near a pulsar known as SXP 1062. What shapes or stories can you see? Leave a note below.

Pulsars are spinning, super-dense stars. They are all that remains of a star that exploded as a supernova. They also glow brightly as an X-ray source. The pulsar in this image is the bright blue star in on the right. Usually pulsars spin very fast, up to several times a minute. This pulsar rotates slowly, once every 18 minutes. The faint bubble surrounding the pulsar is the expanding shell of material blasted into space by the supernova explosion. The explosion occurred between 10,000 and 40,000 years ago. Other optical imagery was added to the image showing us the incredible veils and formations of gas and dust in the nearby star-making region.

This image of SXP 1062 spans about 744 light-years. Light traveling at 6 trillion miles per year has taken about 180,000 years to reach our eyes on Earth from the Small Magellanic Cloud in the constellation of Tucana, the Toucan. Tucana is a new constellation. Petrus Plancius first visualized the constellation in 1589. The celestial cartographer noted many of the strange creatures encountered on early voyages of discovery in the 16th century.

Growing, glowing spider

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/PSU/L.Townsley et al.; Infrared: NASA/JPL/PSU/L.Townsley et al.

A glowing spider is grows inside this massive star-forming region known as the Tarantula Nebula.

Explore the spider outlines in this image from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Spitzer Space Telescope. What stories or patterns does your imagination see? Leave a note below.

The Tarantula Nebula or 30 Doradus, is one of the largest star-making regions known to astronomers. It is huge and it is growing. It takes light more than 1,100 years, traveling nine trillion kilometers per year, to cross the nebula. The gargantuan nebula is found in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a neighboring dwarf galaxy, about 160,000 light-years from Earth. About 2,400 massive lie in the heart of the Tarantula Nebula. Scorching radiation and powerful winds from these stars sculpt and shape the surrounding nebula. The ultraviolet radiation from the stars also causes the hydrogen gas within the nebula to glow bright red.

Look deep in the nebula for bubbles in the nebula. Shockwaves, like ripples in a pond, move out from the massive stars. Bubbles also form as the massive stars destroy themselves as supernovae.

The Tarantula Nebula has enough material to make 450,000 sun-like stars. Astronomers speculate that one day the nebula will form a globular cluster. The Tarantula Nebula is similar to the closer Orion Nebula. If the much brighter Tarantula Nebula was as close to Earth as the Orion Nebula, it would cast shadows.

Jellyfish Supernova

Credit: NASA/CXC/UCSC/L. Lopez et al.

Tucked away in the constellation Centaurus, a colorful bubble of gas and dust resembling a jellyfish, is all that remains of a great star.

Explore the supernova remnant of G292 in this image from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. What shapes and stories do you see in this image? Leave a note for us.

Supernovae occur in a couple of different ways. In one type of supernova, a white dwarf gathers star material from a companion star. Eventually, the core temperature rises to a point where runaway nuclear fusion occurs and it explodes. Astronomers call these Type 1a supernovae.

In another type of supernova, a very massive star collapses after burning all of its hydrogen fuel. These stars are so big that they use up all of their fuel in just a few million years. When this happens, the star can collapse suddenly creating a neutron star or black hole. The star material heats up to incredible temperatures and then explodes away from the surface. Supernovae release so much energy that for brief spans of time they can outshine an entire galaxy. Material from supernovae help create elements for future star and planet creation. Elements found on Earth, such as gold, silver, and uranium, were created in supernovae explosions.

G292 is the second type of supernova. Astronomers studying data from Chandra imagery have found that supernovae remnants of this variety are more symmetrical. If you cut the remnant in half, both sides would look very similar.

Medium-sized stars such as our Sun are not massive enough to become a supernova. In about 4.5 billion years from now, our Sun will burn the last of its hydrogen fuel, become a red giant. The out layers of the Sun will puff out into space and our star will blossom into a planetary nebula.

G292 is found about 20,000 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Centaurus, the Centaur.

Fireworks in D

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

The letter D is outlined in this celestial 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.


The ancient peoples saw pictures in the sky. From those patterns in the heavens, ancient storytellers created legends about heroes, maidens, dragons, bears, centaurs, dogs and mythical creatures...
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