Astrophoto: The Vela Supernova Remnant by Loke Kun Tan

The Vela Supernova Remnant by Loke Kun Tan
About 11,000 years ago, around the dawn of human history, a fantastic stellar explosion took place relatively nearby our place in the galaxy. It left an aftermath covering nearly 40 degrees of the sky (the Moon and Sun extend only 1/2 a degree, for comparison), an aftermath captured by astrophotographer Loke Kun Tan.

The brilliance of this supernova explosion would have rivaled the quarter moon. According to an article in Science Digest, defects in the human cornea would have given this explosion the appearance of a dancing fire, hung low in the heavens if viewed from a location near the Mediterranean, shooting sparks of intense color in every direction like a fountain about the size of the full moon. The landscape would have been flooded with bands of shadows and pulsing illumination. It would have both awed and terrified any observer in antiquity.

Today, we can still see the remains of the conflagration as the Vela Supernova Remnant. It is located within the Gum Nebula, itself the result of an earlier star detonation. The remnant is in the southern constellation of Vela, about 1,300 light years distant – more than three times closer than the famous supernova seen by the Chinese in 1054, which, today, is marked by the Crab Nebula. This is a picture of the remnant’s central region; a growing shell of gas and dust that has enlarged to over 1,000 light years in diameter putting its leading edge only about 300 or 400 lights years from Earth and still expanding in all directions.

As the fast moving energy thrown off in the explosion slams into much slower moving gas and dust that occurs naturally throughout the space between the stars, it creates these beautiful shock wave fronts which glow like sinuous threads. Another view shows an extension of the upper part.

At the heart of the remnant glows a pulsar, the core of the star that exploded. It spins at over ten times per second and is the source of intense X-ray radiation.

Loke Kun Tan recently produced this image from thirty three separate shots that were digitally combined to create the equivalent of a six hour exposure. It was taken during a 2004 trip to La Frontera in Alcohuaz, Chile and was captured through a 4-inch refractor, designed specifically for wide field astrophotography, with an eleven mega-pixel astronomical camera.

Do you have photos you’d like to share? Post them to the Universe Today astrophotography forum or email them, and we might feature one in Universe Today.

Written by R. Jay GaBany