NASA’s Hubble captures a supernova shockwave 20,000 years after a giant star exploded

Supernovas are the biggest explosions in the known universe, triggered by stars caught in their death throes. And although the processes that trigger supernovas vary, the result is always the same – a star’s violent death. In this NASA Hubble photo, the space telescope snapped the remnant of one such supernova in the constellation of Cygnus the Swan.

The wispy orange streaks running across the image are sections of the supernova blast wave.

Located about 2,400 light-years from Earth, the explosion occurred up to 20,000 years ago.

But the blast wave is still racing through space, expanding at hundreds of miles per hour.

According to the European Space Agency (ESA), which operates Hubble together with NASA, the supernova was triggered by a star 20 times bigger than our Sun.

ESA said: “While appearing as a delicate and light veil draped across the sky, this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope actually depicts a small section of the Cygnus supernova blast wave, located around 2,400 light-years away.

“The name of the supernova remnant comes from its position in the northern constellation of Cygnus (the Swan), where it covers an area 36 times larger than the Full Moon.

“The original supernova explosion blasted apart a dying star about 20 times more massive than our Sun between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago”

Since the supernova went off, the remnant has expanded some 60 light-years from its centre.

A change can occur in two different ways, with both resulting in a supernova

NASA

In more earthly terms, it has expanded by about 352,717,520,000,000 miles.

ESA said: “The shockwave marks the outer edge of the supernova remnant and continues to expand at around 220 miles per second.

“The interaction of the ejected material and the low-density material swept up by the shockwave forms the distinctive veil-like structure seen in this image.”

But what exactly caused the Cygnus star to erupt in such a spectacular fashion?

Supernovas are divided into two categories: Type I and Type II explosions.

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NASA said: “A supernova happens where there is a change in the core, or centre, of a star.

“A change can occur in two different ways, with both resulting in a supernova.”

The first type occurs in binary star systems – two stars orbiting around a common point.

If one of these stars is a carbon-oxygen white dwarf, it will siphon material from its stellar companion, growing in mass.

Eventually, the star will surpass its critical mass and explode.

In the second type, a star reaches the end of its life and runs out of nuclear fuel.

Some of the material will then flow into the star’s core, causing it to gain mass until it becomes too heavy to support itself.

NASA said: ” core collapses, which results in the giant explosion of a supernova.

“The sun is a single star, but it does not have enough mass to become a supernova.”

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