In 2007, the Hubble Telescope revealed the Veil Nebula for the first time. Now, the space observatory has revisited the beautiful nebula.
For the first time back in 2007, Hubble photographed three beautiful sections of the Veil Nebula. The images provide stunningly detailed views of the subtle structure resulting from a cosmic explosion.
At the time of the explosion, the nebula would have been seen as a very bright star, rivaling the crescent Moon. Now, stunning smoke-like wisps of gas are all that remain visible of what was once a Milky Way star.
The Veil Nebula – the shattered remains of a supernova that exploded some 5 to 10,000 years ago – is one of the most spectacular supernova remnants in the sky.
In the new version of the image, scientists have applied new processing techniques. Thus, revealing fine details of the nebula’s delicate threads and filaments of ionized gas.
For such a colorful image, scientists have taken observations by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 instrument using five different filters.
The changes between the two image versions may seem subtle at first, but the delight is in the details. The new processing methods have increased details of emissions from doubly ionized oxygen (seen here in blues), ionized hydrogen, and ionized nitrogen (seen in reds).
Only a small portion of the nebula was captured in this image.
The entire nebula is 110 light-years across, covering six full moons on the sky as seen from Earth. It lies about 2,100 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus, the Swan.
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The Veil Nebula is the visible portion of the nearby Cygnus Loop, a supernova remnant formed about 10,000 years ago by the death of a massive star, 20 times the mass of the Sun.
Giant stars are notorious for losing mass in the form of high-speed winds of subatomic particles and dust.
Astronomers suggest powerful winds from the progenitor star blew a large, roughly spherical cavity into the surrounding interstellar gas long before the explosion. Later, when the star self-destructed, the expanding shock wave slammed into the shell, heating and exciting the gas to glow.
The shockwaves and debris from this stellar violence sculpted the Veil Nebula’s delicate threads and filaments of ionized gas. Thus, producing this beautiful cosmic spectacle. The fast-moving blast wave from the ancient explosion is plowing into a wall of cool, denser interstellar gas, emitting light.
Since the cavity walls aren’t perfectly uniform, gas density varies from location to location. In places where the density is thick, the shock wave creates a bright filament in the cavity wall. In thin or nonexistent regions, you can see more diffuse emission or missing sections.
It’s mind-blowing to realize that the shock wave is still plowing through the interstellar gas at nearly a million miles an hour (40 km/second) in places.
As these shocks move, they heat the gas to millions of degrees. It is the subsequent cooling of this material that produces the brilliantly colored glows.
The Veil Nebula crosses the meridian around 11 p.m. in early September. It’s located just below the left-wing of Cygnus the Swan 3° south of Epsilon Cygni.
Astronomers are eager to study supernovae mainly because they are extremely important for understanding our own Milky Way.
Stars are like factories. They generate the chemical elements needed to make everything in our universe.
Although only a few stars per century in our galaxy go supernova, these explosions are responsible for making all chemical elements heavier than iron in the Universe. Many elements, such as copper, mercury, gold, iodine, and lead that we see around us here on Earth today were forged in these violent events billions of years ago.
The expanding shells of supernova remnants mixed with other material in our galaxy become the raw material for new generations of stars and planets.
The chemical elements that make up the Earth, the animals we see around, and our very selves, were built deep inside ancient stars and in the supernova explosions that result in the nebula we are seeing here. The green in the grass and the red of our blood are indeed the colors of stardust.