June 10, 2023
Powerful telescope records fascinating consequences of giant star's death

Spectacular image captures ‘ghost’ after Giant Star died 11,000 years ago

Space organizations didn’t let us forget that Monday was Halloween.

The NASA Exoplanets Twitter account has been made NASA Hexoplanets and NASA Goddard was NASA Ghoul-dard. The James Webb Space Telescope updated it celestial portrait Pillars of Creation to unwind something like hell. And on Monday, the European Southern Observatory put an end to the terrifying drama with a photo of what it calls the ghostly remains of a giant star.

It’s a stunning 554-million-pixel image that paints a cosmic wonder, called the Vela supernova remnant, in translucent lavender, piercing soft blues and intense sunset colors. In the spirit of Halloween, I’d like to remind you that a supernova remnant isn’t just the remaining corpse of a star. It’s akin to cutting up that corpse and spreading its pieces out into space.

Sparkling guts everywhere.

A full-size version of ESO’s Vela Remnant image.

ESO/VPHAS+ group. Acknowledgments: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit.

Technically, this scene consists of several observations produced by a wide-field camera called OmegaCAM, which has an amazing capacity of 268 million pixels. Various filters on the device are what allow the beautiful hues of the image to shine through – four were used on the Vela specifically to create a color scheme of magenta, blue, green and red.

To be clear, this means that the image is colored. In space, the remnant probably doesn’t look so much like a rainbow. It’s just easier to analyze various astronomical aspects of space photos when we have some colorful separators. But what hasn’t been technologically improved is Vela’s structural appearance — named after a southern constellation that translates to “The Sails.”

8 images show the progression of how the team decoded what the rest of Vela looks like.  Some are in black and white.

In this image progression, you can see how scientists used OmegaCAM to image the rest of Vela. You can also see how the image looks before coloring.

ESO/M Kornmesser, VPHAS+ team. Acknowledgments: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit.

These almost 3D bubbles of dust and gas are real. Each transparent streak is expected to be accurate. And the story told of the final death of the giant star is, in all likelihood, true.

However, if you ask me, this ghost is not that scary. It is amazing.

It is one of the most impressive creations of our universe

About 11,000 years ago, a massive star died and unleashed a powerful explosion that caused its outer layers to shock wave the surrounding gas in the region.

This disturbed gas, over time, compressed and created the threaded structures we see in the image. Additionally, any energy released during the event caused the points to glow brightly, casting an ethereal glow over the entire landscape.

As for the dead star itself, the root of this explosion, it is now a neutron star — a stellar body so unimaginably dense that a tablespoon would weigh as much as Mount Everest. ESO also explains that this particular neutron star happens to be even more extreme than average.

12 panels highlight excerpts from the Vela Remnant's greatest moments.

Some highlights of ESO’s Vela image.

ESO/VPHAS+ group. Acknowledgments: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit.

It is a pulsar, meaning it spins on its axis more than 10 times every second. I don’t even want to think how many times it has been turned since I started writing this article.

And “at just 800 light-years from Earth,” ESO said in a press release about the image, “this dramatic supernova remnant is one of the closest known to us.” But since a light year denotes the distance that light can travel in a year, I wouldn’t say that it crosses our cosmic backyard.

I mean, I wouldn’t care if we could physically see this beautiful “ghost” from here on Earth — assuming, of course, that its radiation (and other dangerous stuff) doesn’t haunt us before we get a look.

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