The NASA picture appears to show a red Christmas bauble surrounded by bright lights and falling snowflakes. But the red “ornament” is a ring of stellar gas floating through space and the lights and snowflakes are distant stars. In a festive-themed Tweet, NASA’s astronomers shared the picture snapped by Hubble nine years ago.
NASA said: “#HubbleClassic Resembling a crimson holiday ornament, this sphere is the result of gas being shocked by the blast wave from a supernova explosion.
“Named SNR0509, this bubble floats 160,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC).”
The red ring of gas formed in the final death throes of a star going supernova.
Supernovas are some of the biggest explosions in the universe, triggered by a massive star in the final moments of its life.
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In this particular case, NASA’s Hubble telescope photographed the “pristine shell or bubble” of gas created by a supernova’s shockwave.
When the supernova erupted about 400 years ago, NASA believes it could have been bright enough for astronomers on Earth to see.
The bubble measures approximately 23 light-years or 135,208,380,000,000 miles across.
The red ring is also expanding at a rate of about 11 million miles per hour.
NASA said: “Astronomers have concluded that the explosion was one of an especially energetic and bright variety supernovae.
“Known as Type Ia, such supernova events are thought to result from a white dwarf star in a binary system that robs its pattern of material, takes on much more mass than it is able to handle and eventually explodes.”
The explosion was one of an especially energetic and bright variety supernovae
NASA’s Hubble spotted the red ring on October 28, 2006, but the picture seen here was not created until November 4, 2010.
The image combines observations of glowing hydrogen in the gas ring and visible-light images including the beautiful starfield.
NASA said: “With an age of about 400 years as seen from Earth, the supernova might have been visible to Southern Hemisphere observers around the year 1600.
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“However, there are no known records of a “new star” in the direction of the LMC near that time.
“A more recent supernova in the LMC, SN 1987A, did catch eye of Earth viewers and continues to be studied with ground and space-based telescopes, including Hubble.”
What is the Large Magellanic Cloud?
The Large Magellanic Cloud or LMC is a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, located about 160,000 light-years from us.
The LMC features large clouds of gas that facilitate the birth of new stars.
Astronomers predict the galaxy will collide with the Milky in some 2.5 billion years.
Quick facts about the Hubble Space Telescope:
1. The Hubble Space Telescope is a joint operation between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).
2. Since its mission began, Hubble has made more than 1.3 million observations.
3. The telescope was launched into orbit on April 24, 1990.
4. The orbital observatory is named after the American astronomer Edwin Hubble.
5. Hubble flies over the planet at speeds of about 17,000mph and a height of about 340 miles.
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