EYE ON THE SKY
Spotting an exploding star is a challenge even for modern telescopes, but such catastrophic events do leave traces behind
HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE, 26 NOVEMBER 2018
Massive stars rarely go gentle into that good night: the biggest stellar objects end their lives in gigantic, violent explosions known as supernovae. Astronomical records from millennia ago suggest they have been seen before in our skies – appearing as temporary, yet very bright objects – but none has been recorded since the invention of powerful telescopes. It is, after all, difficult to predict when one will occur.
Instead, astronomers observe supernova remnants: the smoking guns left after a massive star has exploded. The tangled, red filaments seen here are a supernova remnant named SNR 0454-67.2 located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, which is a dwarf galaxy close to our own Milky Way. Once a massive ball of nuclear fusion, these red twists of cosmic dust and gas are now all that remains.