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Spectacular telescopic image shows ‘spooky’ aftermath of giant star’s death

Spectacular telescopic image shows 'spooky' aftermath of giant star's death
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Space agencies didn’t let us forget that Monday was Halloween.

The NASA Exoplanets Twitter account has been NASA hexoplanets and NASA Goddard was NASA Ghouldard. The James Webb Space Telescope has updated its Portrait of the Heavenly Pillars of Creation to deliver something of a hellish vibe. And on Monday the European Southern Observatory rounded off the creepy drama with a photo of what it calls the ghostly remains of a giant star.

It’s a rich 554 million pixel image that paints a cosmic marvel called the Vela supernova remnant in translucent lavender, piercing pale blue, and threadlike sunset colors. In the spirit of Halloween, let me remind you that a supernova remnant isn’t just is the leftover corpse of a star. It’s kind of like chopping up that corpse and spreading its pieces out in space.

Glistening guts everywhere.

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

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

Technically, this scene is made up of multiple observations made by a wide-field camera called OmegaCAM with a staggering 268 million pixel capacity. Various filters on the device let the image’s beautiful tones shine through – four were specifically used on Vela to create a color scheme of magenta, blue, green and red.

To be clear, this means that the image is colored. Out in space, the remnant probably doesn’t look quite as rainbow-like. It’s just easier to analyze different astronomical aspects of space images when we have some colorful dividers. However, what isn’t technologically improved is the way Vela – named after a southern constellation that translates to “The Sails” – looks structurally.

8 images show the progress as the team deciphered what the Vela Remnant looks like.  Some are in black and white.

In this image history, you can see how scientists used OmegaCAM to image the Vela remnant. You can also see what the image looks like before colorization.

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

These almost 3D bubbles of dust and gas are real. Any clear strip is expected to be accurate. And the story told here of the giant star’s final demise is probably true.

Still, if you ask me, this ghost isn’t quite that scary. It’s breathtaking.

It is one of the amazing creations of our universe

About 11,000 years ago, a massive star died, triggering a violent explosion that caused its outermost layers to send out a shockwave into surrounding gas in the region.

This disturbed gas condensed over time, creating the filamentary structures we see in the image. Additionally, the energy released during the event forced the spots to glow brightly, casting an ethereal glow across the entire landscape.

The dead star itself, the root of this detonation, is now a neutron star – a stellar body so incredibly tight that a tablespoon of it would weigh about the same as Mount Everest. ESO also explains that this particular neutron star is even more extreme than average.

12 boxes show excerpts from the greatest moments of the Vela remnant.

Some highlights of ESO’s Vela image.

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

It’s a pulsar, meaning it rotates on its axis more than 10 times per second. I don’t even want to think about how many times it has rotated since I started writing this article.

And “only 800 light-years from Earth,” ESO said in a press release accompanying the image, “this dramatic supernova remnant is one of the closest known to us.” But since a light-year is the distance traveled by light in a year I wouldn’t say it traverses our cosmic backyard.

I mean, not that I care if we could physically see this beautiful “ghost” from here on Earth – provided, of course, its radiation (and other hazardous materials) don’t haunt us before we take a look.

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