What caused this outburst of this star named V838 Mon? For reasons unknown, this star’s outer surface suddenly greatly expanded with the result that it became the brightest star in the entire Milky Way Galaxy in January 2002. Then, just as suddenly, it faded. A stellar flash like this had never been seen before – supernovas and novas expel matter out into space.
Although the V838 Mon flash appears to expel material into space, what is seen in the above GIF from the Hubble Space Telescope is actually an outwardly moving light echo of the bright flash.
In a light echo, light from the flash is reflected by successively more distant rings in the complex array of ambient interstellar dust that already surrounded the star. V838 Mon lies about 20,000 light years away toward the constellation of the unicorn (Monoceros), while the light echo above spans about six light years in diameter.
Wispy remains of a supernova explosion hide a possible ‘survivor.’ Of all the varieties of exploding stars, the ones called Type Ia are perhaps the most intriguing. Their predictable brightness lets astronomers measure the expansion of the universe, which led to the discovery of dark energy. Yet the cause of these supernovae remains a mystery. Do they happen when two white dwarf stars collide? Or does a single white dwarf gorge on gases stolen from a companion star until bursting? If the second theory is true, the normal star should survive. Astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope to search the gauzy remains of a Type Ia supernova in a neighboring galaxy called the Large Magellanic Cloud. They found a sun-like star that showed signs of being associated with the supernova. Further investigations will be needed to learn if this star is truly the culprit behind a white dwarf’s fiery demise.
This supernova remnant is located 160,000 light-years from Earth. The actual supernova remnant is the irregular shaped dust cloud, at the upper center of the image. The gas in the lower half of the image and the dense concentration of stars in the lower left are the outskirts of a star cluster.
Image credit: NASA, ESA and H.-Y. Chu (Academia Sinica, Taipei)
There’s a 250 light-year hole in the center of emission nebula N44 and astronomers aren’t sure why. It could be that particle winds from massive stars are pushing out the gas. Perhaps a more compelling explanation though, based on the detection of X-ray emitting gas, is that supernova explosions carved out this cavern!
(Image Credit: Gemini Obs., AURA, NSF | via Apod.gov)