This image shows the orange and pink clouds that make up the supernova remnant Vela. Credit: ESO/VPHAS+ Team. Acknowledgments: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit
Just 11,000 years ago – just one moment in the gigantic blueprint of the universe – a massive star exploded in spectacular fashion, leaving only tendrils of pink and orange gas.
Called the supernova remnant Vela, this remnant was recently imaged in great detail by OmegaCAM at the VLT Survey Telescope in Chile. The rest are in the constellation Vela – which is Latin for ship sails.
The VLT Survey Telescope has a very large field of view, and this allowed the researchers to take such a wide shot – the entire image is a mosaic, the equivalent of nine full moons in the night sky.
When the supernova exploded, the outer layers of the progenitor star were ejected into the surrounding gas, forming filaments. These explosions cause shock waves that move through the gas, compressing it and creating complex filament-like structures. The energy released heats the gaseous tendrils, causing them to shine brightly.
What’s left of the explosion now is a neutron star – a very dense ball in which protons and electrons are pushed together into neutrons. The neutron star in the remnant of the clade, unfortunately cannot be seen in this image, but it is a pulsar, and it is located outside the upper left corner.
In fact, astronomers from the University of Sydney in 1968 were able to show that the supernova remnant Vela was associated with the pulsar Vela, providing direct observational evidence that neutron stars consist of a supernova.
To create an amazing color photo like this one, multiple filters with different wavelengths of light are placed on top of each other. In this case, the wavelengths are 350 nm, shown in purple (this is equivalent to infrared), 440 nm for blue, 480 nm for green and 625 nm for red.
These images are usually seen as the field of space telescopes such as the Hubble and James Webb Space Telescope, but ground-based telescopes such as the VLT Survey Telescope can be much larger, allowing astronomers to look at larger portions of the night sky in one go.
Jacinta Buller is a science journalist at Cosmos. They have an undergraduate degree in Genetics and Journalism from the University of Queensland and have been published in Best Australian Science Writing 2022.
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