Recent Supernovae Produced Giant Cavities in the Orion Nebula

This image of the Orion Nebula shows the puzzilng Barnard's Loop feature, a structure made of gas first identified in 1898, Image Credit: Michael Foley

The Orion Nebula is a well-known feature in the night sky and is visible in small backyard telescopes. Orion is a busy place. The region is known for active star formation and other phenomena. It’s one of the most scrutinized features in the sky, and astronomers have observed all kinds of activity there: planets forming in protoplanetary disks, stars beginning their lives of fusion inside collapsing molecular clouds, and the photoevaporative power of massive hot stars as they carve out openings in clouds of interstellar gas.

But supernova explosions are leaving their mark on the Orion Nebula too. New research says supernovae explosions in recent astronomical history are responsible for a mysterious feature first formally identified in the night sky at the end of the 19th century. It’s called Barnard’s Loop, and it’s a gigantic loop of hot gas as large as 300 light-years across.

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Astronomers Find a Star That Contains 65 Different Elements

This is an image of M80, an ancient globular cluster of stars. Since these stars formed in the early universe, their metallicity content is very low. This means that gas giants like Jupiter would be rare or non-existent here, while brown dwarfs are likely plentiful. Image: By NASA, The Hubble Heritage Team, STScI, AURA - Great Images in NASA Description, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6449278
This is an image of M80, an ancient globular cluster of stars. Since these stars formed in the early universe, their metallicity content is very low. This means that gas giants like Jupiter would be rare or non-existent here, while brown dwarfs are likely plentiful. Image: By NASA, The Hubble Heritage Team, STScI, AURA - Great Images in NASA Description, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6449278

Have you ever held a chunk of gold in your hand? Not a little piece of jewelry, but an ounce or more? If you have, you can almost immediately understand what drives humans to want to possess it and know where it comes from.

We know that gold comes from stars. All stars are comprised primarily of hydrogen and helium. But they contain other elements, which astrophysicists refer to as a star’s metallicity. Our Sun has a high metallicity and contains 67 different elements, including about 2.5 trillion tons of gold.

Now astronomers have found a distant star that contains 65 elements, the most ever detected in another star. Gold is among them.

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A Recently Discovered Double Binary System is Unstable. Stars Could Collide, Leading to a Supernova

Artist view of a close orbiting binary star. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

Multiple star systems are very common in the Milky Way. While most of these systems are binary systems consisting of two stars, others contain three, four, or even six stars. These systems tend to be pretty stable since unstable systems tend to break apart or merge fairly quickly, but sometimes you can get a kind of meta-stable system. One that lasts long enough for stars to evolve while still being stable in the end. And that end could be a supernova.

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We can Probably Find Supernovae Enhanced by Gravitational Lensing, We Just Need to Look

Using the microlensing metthod, a team of astrophysicists have found the first extra-galactic planets! Credit: NASA/Tim Pyle

Gravitational lensing provides an opportunity to see supernovae and other transients much farther than we normally can. A new research proposal outlines a plan to use a comprehensive catalog of strong gravitational lenses to capture these rare events at extreme distances.

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Nearby Supernovae Exploded Just a few Million Years Ago, Leading to a Wave of Star Formation Around the Sun

Artist's illustration of the Local Bubble with star formation occurring on the bubble's surface. Scientists have now shown how a chain of events beginning 14 million years ago with a set of powerful supernovae led to the creation of the vast bubble, responsible for the formation of all young stars within 500 light years of the Sun and Earth. Credit: Leah Hustak (STScI)

The Sun isn’t the only star in this galactic neighbourhood. Other stars also call this neighbourhood home. But what’s the neighbourhood’s history? What triggered the birth of all those stars?

A team of astronomers say they’ve pieced the history together and identified the trigger: a series of supernovae explosions that began about 14 million years ago.

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Nearby Supernovae Were Essential to Life on Earth

Illustration of the Milky Way seen from Earth where supernova accelerates cosmic rays to high energies. Some of these cosmic ray particles enterers the Earth’s atmosphere, where they produce shower structures of secondary particles. A surprising result is that changes in cosmic rays through Earth's history have influenced life on Earth. Credit: H. Svensmark/DTU Space

It’s almost impossible to comprehend a supernova explosion’s violent, destructive power. An exploding supernova can outshine its host galaxy for a few weeks or even months. That seems almost impossible when considering that a galaxy can contain hundreds of billions of stars. Any planet too close to a supernova would be completely sterilized by all the energy released, its atmosphere would be stripped away, and it may even be shredded into pieces.

But like many things in nature, it all comes down to dose.

A certain amount of supernova activity might be necessary for life to exist.

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Quick Action Let Hubble Watch the Earliest Stages of an Unfolding Supernova Detonation

Astronomers recently witnessed supernova SN 2020fqv explode inside the interacting Butterfly galaxies, located about 60 million light-years away in the constellation Virgo. Researchers quickly trained NASA's Hubble Space Telescope on the aftermath. Along with other space- and ground-based telescopes, Hubble delivered a ringside seat to the first moments of the ill-fated star's demise, giving a comprehensive view of a supernova in the very earliest stage of exploding. Hubble probed the material very close to the supernova that was ejected by the star in the last year of its life. These observations allowed researchers to understand what was happening to the star just before it died, and may provide astronomers with an early warning system for other stars on the brink of death. Credits: NASA, ESA, Ryan Foley (UC Santa Cruz); Image Processing: Joseph DePasquale (STScI)

If it weren’t for supernova remnants we wouldn’t have much knowledge of supernovae themselves. If a supernova explosion is the end of a star’s life, then we can also thank forensic astrophysics for much of our knowledge. The massive exploding stars leave behind brilliant and mesmerizing evidence of their catastrophic ends, and much of what we know about supernovae comes from studying the remnants rather than the explosions themselves. Supernova remnants like the Crab Nebula and SN 1604 (Kepler’s Supernova) are some of our most-studied objects.

Observing an active supernova in the grip of its own destruction can be difficult. But it looks like the Hubble Space Telescope is up to the task.

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Astronomers Find a Giant Cavity in Space, Hollowed out by an Ancient Supernova

A cavity of empty space was likely caused by a supernova. Credit: Alyssa Goodman/Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian

Star formation is a topic astronomers are still trying to fully understand. We know, for example, that stars don’t form individually, but rather are born within vast interstellar molecular clouds. These stellar nurseries contain gas dense enough for gravity to trigger the formation of stars. In spiral galaxies, these molecular clouds are most commonly found within spiral arms, which is why stars are most often born in spiral arms.

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Hubble Reveals the Final Stages of a Dying Star

A Hubble Space Telescope image of AG Carinae. Image Credit: By Judy Schmidt - Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27896969

In April 2021 Hubble released its 31st-anniversary image. It’s a portrait of AG Carinae, one of the most luminous stars in the entire Milky Way. AG Carinae is in a reckless struggle with itself, periodically ejecting matter until it reaches stability sometime in the future.

Thanks to the Hubble, we get to watch the brilliant struggle.

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Astronomy Jargon 101: Standard Candles

This illustration shows three steps astronomers used to measure the universe's expansion rate (Hubble constant) to an unprecedented accuracy, reducing the total uncertainty to 2.3 percent. The measurements streamline and strengthen the construction of the cosmic distance ladder, which is used to measure accurate distances to galaxies near to and far from Earth. The latest Hubble study extends the number of Cepheid variable stars analyzed to distances of up to 10 times farther across our galaxy than previous Hubble results. Credits: NASA, ESA, A. Feild (STScI), and A. Riess (STScI/JHU)

In this series we are exploring the weird and wonderful world of astronomy jargon! If only there was a way to measure the distance to today’s topic: standard candles!

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