On this Fourth of July, it's usual -- at least in the U.S. -- to watch fireworks. But I want to invite you to see very special ones, celestial fireworks discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope. Astronomy Magazine has the story.
In a newly released image, the Hubble Space Telescope peers into a neighboring galaxy to capture a gorgeous view of a supernova remnant called LMC N 49.
Also known as DEM L 190, the nebula lies within the Large Magellanic Cloud approximately 160,000 light-years away. It is the product of a supernova explosion that would have been witnessed thousands of years ago by any skyward-looking creatures on Earth.
Here is an illustration of the celestial fireworks from the supernova remnant LMC N49 [Image credit: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)].
You can find a larger picture at this Hubble Heritage Project page.
The smoky filaments seen in Hubble's optical image are sheets of debris from the exploded star that are slamming into dense molecular clouds in the surrounding interstellar medium. The impact ionizes atoms and causes them to glow. The remnant's knotty, filamentary structures are also seen at x-ray wavelengths.
The Hubble Heritage image of N 49 is a composite of images taken by multiple research teams in 1998, 1999, and 2000. One of those teams, headed by You-Hua Chu from the University of Illinois and Rosa Williams of the University of Massachusetts, used Hubble to investigate whether small clouds in the interstellar medium had any visible effect on the structure and evolution of the supernova remnant.
You can find additional tons of information at this other Hubble Heritage Project page.
For more ordinary fireworks, and the technologies used to produce these shows, please read what I was writing a year ago, in "Fireworks Meld Art, Science and, Increasingly, Technology."
Sources: Vanessa Thomas, Astronomy Magazine, July 4, 2003; Hubble Heritage Project, July 3, 2003
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