“It’s better to burn out than to fade away”, as Neil Young once said, and when it comes to burning out nothing beats a big star that blows up as a supernova. These catastrophic events occur as big stars run out of fuel in their core and become unable to hold themselves up against the relentless pull of their own gravity. Their outer layers collapse, crush the star’s dense core into a neutron star or black hole, then snap back in a violent explosion that eject as much energy in a few minutes as our sun does in its entire lifetime.
Since only the largest stars expire like this, and since the explosion itself plays out quickly over a few days or weeks, a supernova is a relatively rare event: the last known supernova in the Milky Way happened more than 400 years ago. But such explosions often leave a long-lasting imprint in the form of a visible nebula caused by the rapidly expanding shock wave of the exploding star colliding with and setting aglow the rarefied gas of the interstellar medium. Dozens of these so-called supernova remnants fleck the night sky. Most require a big telescope and sensitive camera to detect, but one of the brightest and easiest to see lies off the eastern ‘wing’ of the constellation Cygnus, the Swan. This is the famous Veil Nebula, a sprawling complex of glowing gas and one of the most intricate and intrinsically beautiful objects in our galaxy [Read more…] about The Veil NebulaShare This: