This Supernova Lit Up the Sky in 1181. Here’s What it Looks Like Now

A composite image of the remnant of supernova 1181. A spherical bright nebula sits in the middle surrounded by a field of white dotted stars. Within the nebula several rays point out like fireworks from a central star. G. Ferrand and J. English (U. of Manitoba), NASA/Chandra/WISE, ESA/XMM, MDM/R.Fessen (Dartmouth College), Pan-STARRS

Historical astronomical records from China and Japan recorded a supernova explosion in the year 1181. It was in the constellation Cassiopeia and it shone as bright as the star Vega for 185 days. Modern astronomers took their cue from their long-gone counterparts and have been searching for its remnant.

But it took them time to find it because they were looking for the wrong thing.

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This is a 1.3 Gigapixel Image of a Supernova Remnant

This colorful web of wispy gas filaments is the Vela Supernova Remnant, an expanding nebula of cosmic debris left over from a massive star that exploded about 11,000 years ago. This image was taken with the Department of Energy-fabricated Dark Energy Camera (DECam), mounted on the US National Science Foundation's Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, a Program of NSF’s NOIRLab. The striking reds, yellows, and blues in this image were achieved through the use of three DECam filters that each collect a specific color of light. Separate images were taken in each filter and then stacked on top of each other to produce this high-resolution image that contains 1.3 gigapixels and showcases the intricate web-like filaments snaking throughout the expanding cloud of gas.

Stars more massive than the Sun blow themselves to pieces at the end of their life. Usually leaving behind either a black hole, neutron star or pulsar they also scatter heavy elements across their host galaxy. One such star went supernova nearly 11,000 years ago creating the Vela Supernova Remnant. The resultant expanding cloud of debris covers almost 100 light years and would be twenty times the diameter of the full Moon. Astronomers have recently imaged the remnant with a 570 megapixel Dark Energy Camera (DECam) creating a stunning 1.3 gigapixel image. 

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Japan’s New X-Ray Observatory Sees First Light

Supernova remnant N132D lies in the central portion of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy about 160,000 light-years away. XRISM’s Xtend captured the remnant in X-rays, displayed in the inset. Although bright in X-rays, the stellar wreckage is almost invisible in the ground-based background view taken in optical light. Credit: Inset, JAXA/NASA/XRISM Xtend; background, C. Smith, S. Points, the MCELS Team and NOIRLab/NSF/AURA

XRISM, the X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission, is a joint NASA/JAXA mission led by JAXA. The X-ray space telescope began its mission in low-Earth orbit on September 6th, 2023. Science operations won’t begin until later this year, but the satellite’s science team has released some of the telescope’s first images.

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JWST Delivers A Fantastic New Image Of Supernova Remnant Cassiopeia A

Like a shiny, round ornament ready to be placed in the perfect spot on a holiday tree, supernova remnant Cassiopeia A (Cas A) gleams in a new image from the NASA/CSA/ESA James Webb Space Telescope. Image Credit: NASA/CSA/ESA

Astronomy is all about light. Sensing the tiniest amounts of it, filtering it, splitting it into its component wavelengths, and making sense of it, especially from objects a great distance away. The James Webb Space Telescope is especially adept at this, as this new image of supernova remnant (SNR) Cassiopeia A exemplifies so well.

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Webb’s Infrared Eye Reveals the Heart of the Milky Way

The full view of the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) instrument reveals a 50 light-years-wide portion of the Milky Way’s dense centre. An estimated 500,000 stars shine in this image of the Sagittarius C (Sgr C) region, along with some as-yet unidentified features. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, S. Crowe (UVA)

The JWST is taking a break from studying the distant Universe and has trained its infrared eye on the heart of the Milky Way. The world’s most powerful space telescope has uncovered some surprises and generated some stunning images of the Milky Way’s galactic center (GC.) It’s focused on an enormous star-forming region called Sagittarius C (Sgr C).

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An Amateur Astronomer Discovered One-of-a-Kind Supernova Remnant

PA 30 imaged in O III on Sept 6, 2013 by KPNO from Ritter et al (2021) (left) and in S II from Fesen et al (2023) (right).

In 2013, amateur astronomer Dana Patchick was looking through images from the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer archive and discovered a diffuse, circular object near the constellation of Cassiopeia. He found this apparent nebula was interesting because it was bright in the infrared portion of the spectrum, but virtually invisible in the colors of light visible to our eyes. Dana added this item to the database of the Deep Sky Hunters amateur astronomers group, believing it was a planetary nebula – the quiet remnant of stars in mass similar to the sun. He named it PA 30.

However, professional astronomers who picked it up from there realized that this object is far more than it first seemed. It is, they now believe, the remnant of a lost supernova observed in 1181. And an extremely rare type at that.

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Astronomers Have Been Watching a Supernova’s Debris Cloud Expand for Decades with Hubble

This is a Hubble image of a very small region of the Cygnus Loop, a supernova remnant. The image shows a small part of the leading edge of the expanding bubble. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Ravi Sankrit (STScI)

Twenty thousand years ago, a star in the constellation Cygnus went supernova. Like all supernovae, the explosion released a staggering amount of energy. The explosion sent a powerful shockwave into the surrounding space at half a million miles per hour, and it shows no signs of slowing down.

For twenty years, the Hubble Space Telescope has been watching some of the action.

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The Dark Energy Camera Captures the Remains of an Ancient Supernova

The US DOE's DECam captured this image of the tattered shell of the first-ever recorded supernova. A ring of glowing debris is all that remains of a white dwarf star that exploded more than 1800 years ago and was recorded by Chinese astronomers as a ‘guest star’. This special image, which covers an impressive 45 arcminutes on the sky, gives a rare view of the entirety of this supernova remnant. Image Credit: CTIO/NOIRLab/DOE/NSF/AURA T.A. Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage/NSF’s NOIRLab), J. Miller (Gemini Observatory/NSF’s NOIRLab), M. Zamani & D. de Martin (NSF’s NOIRLab)

The first written record of a supernova comes from Chinese astrologers in the year 185. Those records say a ‘guest star’ lit up the sky for about eight months. We now know that it was a supernova.

All that remains is a ring of debris named RCW 86, and astronomers working with the DECam (Dark Energy Camera) used it to examine the debris ring and the aftermath of the supernova.

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A new Hubble Image Reveals a Shredded Star in a Nearby Galaxy

The latest composite image of supernova remnant DEM L 190, released in November 2022. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, S. Kulkarni, Y. Chu

The Hubble Space Telescope, to which we owe our current estimates for the age of the universe and the first detection of organic matter on an exoplanet, is very much doing science and still alive. It’s latest masterpiece remixes an old hit – apparently a growing trend in space science as well as space music.

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Star Formation Simulated in the lab, Using Lasers, of Course

Illustration of the evolution of a massive cloud which indicates the importance of SNR propagation in forming new stars. CREDIT: Albertazzi et al.

The vacuum of space isn’t really a vacuum. A vacuum is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a space absolutely devoid of matter.” However, even empty space has some matter in it. This matter, in the form of dust and gas, tends to collect into what are called molecular clouds. Without anything interfering with them they continue to float as a cloud.

When something happens to interrupt the balance of the molecular cloud, some of that dust and gas starts clumping together. As more and more of this dust and gas clump together gravity takes over and starts forming stars. One way that the balance of a molecular cloud can be interfered with is by a supernova remnant, the remains of an exploded star. Plasma jets, radiation, and other clouds can also interact with these clouds.

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