What Does a Dying Star Look Like?

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NASA Releases New Photos of a Dying Star that Happened Over 11,000 years ago.

When we point our cameras, telescopes, and instruments at the night sky, it’s important to realize that the images we see are portraits of the past. In fact, even light from the sun takes eight minutes to reach earth. So when NASA studies objects and cosmic phenomena via photographs, scientists understand that they’re sometimes closer to archaeologists than astronomers. Such is the case with a recent photo that the agency caught of a dying star. This particular star exploded more than 11,000 years ago.  Now we’re seeing the remnants of a bigger bang that got to us around the 17th century – the time of Newton.

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A Snapshot of the Past

Experts say that astronomers back in Newton’s day might have observed this particular event, but we’ve only recently developed technology to allow us to take pictures with any kind of detail. NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope, for instance, took these particular photos. 

Earlier image of Cassiopeia A

Earlier image of Cassiopeia A

What we see in these new photos is a cloud of debris and light leftover from that 12,000-year-old explosion called Cassiopeia A. Supernovae like this one happen every so often when stars collapse into themselves, then explode again, effectively creating new stars. The new photos of Cassiopeia A are evidence of this process.  

Think of what we’re seeing here as a small-scale, terrestrial fireball just milliseconds after it explodes. After all, in the cosmic sense, four hundred years or so is just the blink of an eye.

This particular supernova is the youngest we’ve detected in our galaxy. It’s also the strongest source of extrasolar radiation we know about. That means it’s an abundant source of data for astronomers who are trying to piece together exactly how stars are born and die.

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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