The Haunting Supernova Relic of a Massive Star’s Death


For the universe's biggest stars, death is an often glorious event. Massive stars typically end their lives in explosive cataclysms, or supernovae, spewing awesome amounts of hot gas and radiation into outer space. Remnants of these dramatic deaths can linger for thousands of years and be easily detected by professional astronomers.

Thirty thousand light-years away in the Cepheus constellation, astronomers think they've found a massive star whose death barely almost faded into visible nonexistence. Remnants of this giant star's supernova would have gone completely unnoticed if the super-sensitive lense of NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope hadn't accidentally stumbled upon it.

Astronomers suspect that the remnant's elusiveness is due to its location away from our Milky Way galaxy's dusty main disk, which contains most of the galaxy's stars. A supernova is most noticeable when the material expelled during the star's furious death throes violently collides with surrounding dust. Since the star sits away from the galaxy's dusty and crowded disk, the hot gas and radiation it flung into space had little surrounding material to crash into.

Thus, it is largely invisible at most wavelengths. Spitzer did not need dust to see the remnant. The mid-infrared instrument was able to directly detect the oxygen-rich gas from the supernova's explosive death throes.

Via NASA/Spitzer


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