NASA’s Hubble captures stunning image of supernova blast wave

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An image of a ‘delicate supernova blast wave’ seen draped across the sky 2,400 light years from Earth, has been captured by the NASA Hubble Space Telescope.

Appearing like a light veil across the sky, it is actually the outer edge of a supernova remnant from an explosion that blasted apart a dying star up to 20,000 years ago.

The European Space Agency (ESA), a partner in the Hubble telescope, said the exploding star would have been about 20 times more massive than our Sun.  

The stellar phenomenon is called the Cygnus supernova blast wave – the name comes from its position in the northern constellation of Cygnus (the Swan).  

Appearing like a light veil across the sky, it is actually the outer edge of a supernova remnant from an explosion that blasted apart a dying star up to 20,000 years ago

Appearing like a light veil across the sky, it is actually the outer edge of a supernova remnant from an explosion that blasted apart a dying star up to 20,000 years ago

Since the original supernova explosion blasted apart the giant star, the remnant has expanded out as much as 60 light-years from its centre. 

The shockwave imaged by Hubble marks the outer edge of the supernova remnant and continues to expand at around 217 miles per second, ESA explained. 

‘The interaction of ejected material and low-density interstellar material swept up by the shockwave forms the distinctive veil-like structure seen in the image,’ ESA said.

A supernova is an explosion where a giant star reaches the end of its life and expels most of its mass into space – over time resulting in strange shaped remnants.

The Cygnus remnant covers an area of the sky 36 times larger than the full Moon.

Hubble is now celebrating 30 years since it was launched into low earth orbit in 1990 – over that time it has helped revolutionise our understanding of the universe. 

While Hubble has been an amazing source of information for scientists, it has also revealed some of the most iconic astronomy images ever captured.

Since the original supernova explosion blasted apart the giant star, the remnant has expanded out as much as 60 light-years from its centre. This is an image of the wider Cygnus Loop captured by Hubble in 1991

Since the original supernova explosion blasted apart the giant star, the remnant has expanded out as much as 60 light-years from its centre. This is an image of the wider Cygnus Loop captured by Hubble in 1991

As well as showing the world this new ‘outer edge’ of the Cygnus supernova blast, Hubble also captured the wider Cygnus loop.

This is a stellar nebula created from the same supernova explosion. 

Most stars that explode in a supernova leave behind a small stellar remnant – such as a neutron star or a black hole – but so far nobody has found the one left from the explosion that created this extensive blast wave.

It is expected that the remnant left behind by the Cygnus supernova will be up to 15 times more massive than the Sun – putting it in the range of a neutron star.  

NASAs Hubble Space Telescope is still working and has made more than 1.3 million observations since its mission began in 1990

The Hubble telescope was launched on April 24, 1990, via the space shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

It is named after famed astronomer Edwin Hubble who was born in Missouri in 1889.

He is arguably most famous for discovering that the universe is expanding and the rate at which is does so – now coined the Hubble constant. 

The Hubble telescope is named after famed astronomer Edwin Hubble who was born in Missouri in 1889 (pictured)

The Hubble telescope is named after famed astronomer Edwin Hubble who was born in Missouri in 1889 (pictured)

Hubble has made more than 1.3 million observations since its mission began in 1990 and helped publish more than 15,000 scientific papers.

It orbits Earth at a speed of about 17,000mph (27,300kph) in low Earth orbit at about 340 miles in altitude.

Hubble has the pointing accuracy of .007 arc seconds, which is like being able to shine a laser beam focused on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s head on a dime roughly 200 miles (320km) away.

The Hubble telescope is named after Edwin Hubble who was responsible for coming up with the Hubble constant and is one of the greatest astronomers of all-time

The Hubble telescope is named after Edwin Hubble who was responsible for coming up with the Hubble constant and is one of the greatest astronomers of all-time

Hubble’s primary mirror is 2.4 meters (7 feet, 10.5 inches) across and in total is 13.3 meters (43.5 feet) long – the length of a large school bus.

Hubble’s launch and deployment in April 1990 marked the most significant advance in astronomy since Galileo’s telescope. 

Thanks to five servicing missions and more than 25 years of operation, our view of the universe and our place within it has never been the same. 

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