Spectacular Veil Nebula images reveal celestial masterpiece

Layering NASA's Hubble Space Telescope's 18-year-old pictures of the nebula with the new ones shows how debris from an ancient star explosion are still expanding through space.

NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has unveiled in stunning detail a small section of the expanding remains of a massive star that exploded about 8,000 years ago. Called the Veil Nebula, the debris is one of the best-known supernova remnants, deriving its name from its delicate, draped filamentary structures.

Images of an iridescent cloud of gases and dust still settling after a massive star explosion – a supernova – about eight millenniums ago show a breathtaking view of space thousands of light years away.

The Hubble Space Telescope, which has been orbiting the earth since 1990, has produced images of the Veil Nebula, a zoomed-in portion of what astronomers call Cygnus Loop, a donut-shaped nebula that is six times the apparent diameter of the full moon, according to NASA’s Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, which makes images from Hubble available to the public.

“The problem with this object is that it’s so big in the sky, we can only look at small pieces of it at a time,” Zoltan G. Levay, who leads the institute’s imaging group, said last week in a YouTube video.

“But that’s actually kind of cool, because with Hubble’s great resolution we can see these things in great detail,” he added.

This detail of the Veil Nebula – measuring about two light-years across – shows the edges of the explosion of a star that astronomers say was 20 times bigger than our sun. The radiant light comes from the blast expanding and ultimately colliding into a spherical shell of cool, dense interstellar gas. The reddish filaments, NASA says, occur after gas is swept into the shock wave at speeds of nearly 1 million miles an hour, so fast that it could travel from Earth to the moon in 15 minutes.

The final, artistic masterpiece of a portion of the nebula hovering over a mosaic of stars was formed by combining six images taken by Hubble over 18 orbits. The telescope used highly sensitive filters to bring out the colored lights. The red comes from hydrogen; green from sulfur; blue from oxygen.

The rippled, colored shape of the interstellar cloud is formed by varying factors such as temperature, density, and when the gasses were struck by the blast's shock wave.

“We talk about this being an oxygen, a hydrogen and a sulfur picture and there are cases where we look at supernova remnants and those things are telling us about the composition of the gas being different in different places,” William P. Blair, an astrophysicist and professor at Johns Hopkins University said in the YouTube video.

He continued, “Here the gas is pretty much one composition and those different filters are telling us something about the physical conditions, the temperature and density variations, as opposed to composition of the material.”

This isn’t the first time Hubble has photographed the Veil Nebula. The last time was in 1997. Having the two sets of photos allows astronomers to study how the nebula has expanded since it was first photographed.

“The shock wave is moving rather rapidly through this material,” said Dr. Levay. “When we do compare those two observation we do see obvious motion in the material.”

The Hubble telescope was first launched by NASA and the European Space Agency above the earth’s atmosphere in 1990, having since then sent back hundreds of thousands of images that have helped astronomers determine the age of the universe, the identity of quasars, and the existence of dark energy.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Spectacular Veil Nebula images reveal celestial masterpiece
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today