NASA has shared a new and very cool photograph via its Instagram page. The image looks almost as if it was created using Photoshop, showing an undulating orange ribbon across space. NASA says the image is actually of a small section of Cygnus’ supernova blast wave.
The Cygnus supernova blast wave is about 2400 light-years away from us. The explosion that created the blast wave was caused by a dying star that was about 20 times more massive than the Sun. The explosion occurred between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago.
Since the original explosion, the supernova blast wave has expanded from its center by about 60 light-years. The shockwave is growing at a rate of around 350 kilometers per second. NASA has said that the interaction of the ejected material and the low-density interstellar material pushed by the shockwave forms the veil-like structure seen in the image.
The supernova remnant was named from its position in the northeastern constellation of Cygnus. It covers an area 36 times larger than the full moon. A supernova is the explosion of a massive star that is extremely bright and is described as the last hurrah of a dying star.
A supernova can also occur when two stars orbit one another, and at least one is an Earth-sized white dwarf. When one collides with another or pulls too much material from the other star, the white dwarf can explode. Supernovas aren’t common with astronomers estimating that only two or three occur every century in galaxies like the Milky Way. Supernovas make some beautiful photographs and the fact that they happened tens of thousands of years ago and we can still see them is mind-boggling.