The stars die in fire and fury.
They tremble and shake, erupting from their guts into space; When the star explodes and the violence ends, a magnificently glowing cloud of star guts remains.
Such an event is what created the Veil Nebula, a gauze fragment from a larger supernova remnant called the Cygnus Loop created when a star 20 times the mass of the Sun went supernova, about 10,000 years ago.
If you like space photos (and what science lover doesn’t?), You’ve probably seen it: The Hubble Space Telescope released a spectacular image in 2015, taken with its Wide Field Camera 3 instrument, a rainbow of filaments that are stretches across the darkness of space.
Now, researchers have reprocessed that data using new techniques, uncovering finer details in the gas threads.
Located at a distance of about 2,100 light-years away and with a length of about 110 light-years, the Veil Nebula is believed to have been formed by a powerful stellar wind emitted before the star exploded.
The wind was pushing the gas that had already been expelled by the dying star, emptying cavities. When the supernova shock wave penetrates this region, it interacts with the walls of the cavity, impacting and energizing the gas it contains, and creating the complex filamentary structure of the Veil.
Images like this are not just a show – they help astronomers understand these interstellar processes. Here, for example, different gases emit slightly different wavelengths of light, which have been color-coded: blue for doubly ionized oxygen and red for ionized hydrogen and ionized nitrogen.
Green gases have not been disturbed by shock waves as recently as blue, so they have had time to cool down and diffuse into their fluffier chaotic forms.
Because the nebula is still expanding, studying these filaments and their compositions can help us better understand the structure of the cloud and how the supernova shock wave interacts with it. These images taken at different times can also be compared to each other to see how fast the shock wave is moving.
Hubble’s observations in 2015 were compared to images of the nebula taken in 1997 (see the video above) and scientists were able to calculate that it is expanding at a speed of 1.5 million kilometers (932,000 miles) per hour. The diameter of the Earth, for reference, is 12,742 kilometers.
Eventually, the remains of the hot young star that died so dramatically will all be blown up, scattered throughout the interstellar medium. Even for the stars, all things must come to an end.
You can download a wallpaper-sized version of the reprocessed image from ESA’s Hubble website.