A spiral galaxy in the constellation Pegasus shines like soft porcelain from afar, a saucer delicately tilted toward space.
This region of bright stars some 184 million light-years from our solar system may seem like the picture of tranquility, but astronomers have turned their attention to the dwarf galaxy to study the aftermath of a catastrophic boom.
NasaThe Hubble Space Telescope captured this image of UGC 11860 from its perch in low Earth orbit to study the remains of a supernova. The violent cosmic explosion was first detected in 2014 by the All Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae(opens in a new tab)a Hawaii-based robotic telescope brazenly called “Assassin”.
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Giant stars about eight times the mass of the sun or more explode as supernovae at the end of their lives and collapse into black holes.
Supernovas, the biggest, brightest and most violent explosions in the universe, are element factories, say astrophysicists: they manufacture carbon, for example, the same chemical on which humans and a much of life on Earth are based. They spread metals like calcium found in bones and iron in blood through interstellar space. This dispersion generates new generations of stars and planets.
It is what astronomer Carl Sagan meant when he said we were made of “star stuff”. The same substances that make up our bodies were literally forged in the cores of stars and then blasted through the cosmos when they died.
Astronomer Carl Sagan said humans are made of “star stuff”.
Credit: Tony Korody / Sygma / Sygma via Getty Image
In May, a supernova has been discovered in one of the spiral arms of the Pinwheel galaxy. The explosion is one of the closest spotted in decades, just 21 million light-years away. It may seem extremely distant, but most detected by telescopes come from 6 to 13 billion light-years away.
The colossal flash will likely clear up and continue to be visible for many months or even years. The event even inspired some astronomers to scan the space around the supernova, in case an advanced alien civilization decided to use the star’s explosion as something akin to a flare. . to get our attention.
Not all stars suffer this fate. In fact, an average star like the sun should not become a supernova but gradually running out of nuclear fuelshedding its material in rings of clouds that will eventually wither it down to its core, a white dwarf star of carbon and oxygen.
Artistic representation of a supernova explosion.
Credit: NASA artwork
The research team survey UGC 11860(opens in a new tab) wants to better understand the star systems that eventually shut down with the quick kick of a supernova, according to the European Space Agency, which is collaborating with NASA on Hubble.
“The extremely energetic processes during supernova explosions are primarily responsible for forming the elements between silicon and nickel on the periodic table,” depending on the agency(opens in a new tab). “This means that understanding the influence of the masses and compositions of the progenitor star systems is key to explaining how many chemical elements here on Earth originated.”