(WHTM) — Just in time for Halloween, the European Southern Observatory has released a 554 million-pixel image of the very beautiful, yet somewhat spooky, remains of a star that went supernova thousands of years ago.
The star is named the Vela supernova remnant due to its location in the southern constellation Vela (the Sails). It’s one of the closest supernova remnants to Earth, at a distance of only (only?) 800 light years away.
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The star exploded about 11,000 years ago, blowing its outer layers into the gas surrounding it. The shock waves from the explosion compressed the gas into intricate tendrils and heated them so they shine brightly.
What was left of the star collapsed inward, forming a neutron star made of ultra-dense matter in which protons and electrons are squeezed together by gravity into neutrons. (How dense is ultra-dense? A tablespoon of neutron star matter would weigh about as much as Mount Everest — somewhat more than 1 billion tons.)
The Vela neutron star rotates, making it a pulsar (PULSAting Radio source). By measuring the rate it emits radio pulses, astronomers can tell the Vela supernova spins more than ten times a second. (This is by no means a record breaker; some neutron stars have been clocked at several hundred rotations per second.)
This image is a mosaic of pictures taken by the 268 million-pixel OmegaCAM wide-field camera of the VST, or VLT Survey Telescope. As the name suggests, the VST does wide-angle surveys of the sky, detecting potential targets for the Very Large Telescope (VLT), an array of four telescopes located on the Cerro Paranal (Paranal Hill) in Chile at a height of 2,635 meters, or 8,645 feet.
To read ESO’s original news release, click here.
To learn more about how the image was created, click here.
To learn more about Paranal Observatory, click here.
To learn more about the European Southern Observatory, click here.
The VST is owned by The National Institute for Astrophysics in Italy and functions as part of the European Southern Observatory, an international, intergovernmental science and technology organization focused on ground-based astronomy.