A spooky spider web, magical dragons or delicate ghost tracks? What do you see in this image of the Vela supernova remnant?
Captured here in incredible detail with the VLT Survey Telescope, housed at the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Paranal site in Chile, this beautiful carpet of color shows the ghostly remains of a giant star.
The delicate structure of pink and orange clouds is all that remains of a massive star that ended its life in a violent explosion some 11,000 years ago. When the most massive stars reach the end of their lives, they often go out with a bang, in a burst known as a supernova. These explosions cause shock waves that travel through the surrounding gas, compressing it and creating intricate thread-like structures. The energy released heats the gaseous tendrils, making them glow brightly as shown in this image.
In this 554 million pixel image we get an extremely detailed view of the Vela supernova remnant, named after the southern constellation Vela (The Sails). You could fit nine full moons in this entire image, and the entire cloud is even larger. Only 800 light-years from Earth, this dramatic supernova remnant is one of the closest known to us.
Its explosion ejected the progenitor star’s outermost layers into the surrounding gas, creating the spectacular filaments seen here. What remains of the star is an ultradense sphere in which the protons and electrons are compressed into neutrons – a neutron star. The neutron star in the Vela remnant, placed just outside of this image at the top left, happens to be a pulsar spinning on its axis at an incredible speed of more than 10 times per second.
This image is a mosaic of observations made with the wide-field camera OmegaCAM on the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. The 268 million pixel camera can capture images through multiple filters that allow light of different colors to pass through. Four different filters were used in this particular image of the Vela Remnant, represented here by a combination of magenta, blue, green, and red.
The VST is owned by the National Institute for Astrophysics in Italy, INAF, and with its 2.6-metre mirror is one of the largest telescopes for measuring the night sky in visible light. This image is an example from one such survey: the VST Photometric Hα Survey of the Southern Galactic Plane and Bulge (VPHAS+). For over seven years, this survey has mapped a significant portion of our home galaxy, giving astronomers a better understanding of how stars form, evolve, and eventually die.
The European Southern Observatory (ESO) enables scientists worldwide to discover the mysteries of the universe for the benefit of all. We design, build and operate world-class ground-based observatories – which astronomers use to address exciting questions and spread the excitement of astronomy – and foster international collaboration in astronomy. ESO was founded in 1962 as an intergovernmental organization and today it is supported by 16 member states (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Great Britain), together with the host country Chile and with Australia as a strategic partner. ESO’s headquarters and its visitor center and planetarium, the ESO Supernova, are located near Munich in Germany, while the Chilean Atacama Desert, a wonderful place with unique conditions for observing the sky, hosts our telescopes. ESO operates three observing sites: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope and its Very Large Telescope Interferometer, as well as survey telescopes such as VISTA. Also at Paranal, ESO will host and operate the Cherenkov Telescope Array South, the world’s largest and most sensitive gamma-ray observatory. Together with international partners, ESO operates APEX and ALMA on Chajnantor, two facilities that observe the sky at millimeter and submillimeter scales. At Cerro Armazones, near Paranal, we are building “the world’s largest eye in the sky” – ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope. From our offices in Santiago, Chile, we support our activities in the country and work with Chilean partners and society.
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