Around 8,000 years ago, a star died in a fiery explosion, creating what we know today as the Veil Nebula supernova remnant, a star that was approximately 20 times the size of our own sun. When it exploded, the event was so massive that it might have even been noticed by ancient humans on Earth, Space reported.
Remnants of the supernova can now be seen once again by human eyes in stunning detail, thanks to a new series of images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, but what exactly is the Veil Nebula? According to researchers at NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), the nebula was created by a fast-moving wave of gas that shot forth into space during the explosion.
“Astronomers suspect that before the Veil Nebula’s source star exploded, it expelled a strong stellar wind. This wind blew a large cavity into the surrounding interstellar gas.”
The Veil Nebula actually debuted for the first time back in 1997, when the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 took a series of breathtaking photos that revealed its vibrant colors and filament-like structures. These original images were recently overlaid with new shots captured by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, showing more detail than ever before.
“Bright filaments are produced as the shock wave interacts with a relatively dense cavity wall, whilst fainter structures are generated by regions nearly devoid of material.”
The result is a stunningly beautiful – albeit quite violent – mixture of blue, green, purple, red, and yellow tones, peppered throughout a mesmerizing ethereal framework. The enormous Veil Nebula is currently located approximately 2,100 light years away, measures 150 light years across and is still expanding.
“The Veil Nebula’s colorful appearance is generated by variations in the temperatures and densities of the chemical elements present.”
This includes ionized gasses that are red from glowing hydrogen, green from sulfur and blue from oxygen. According to researchers, features that appear blue in the new images of the Veil Nebula are actually hotter than those that glow red or green. The blue-toned areas that appear to outline the cavity wall also have a smooth, curved appearance compared to the red and green areas, which have what researchers called a “fluffy appearance.”
“The gas traced by the blue filter has more recently encountered the nebula’s shockwave.”
The Hubble Space Telescope was originally unveiled when it launched in April of 1990. Since then, it has undergone repairs five times, the latest when spacewalking astronauts installed the newest camera in 2009.
[Photo courtesy of NASA]