Telescope captures the spooky remains of a massive dead star

A spooky spider web, magical dragons, or wispy trails of ghosts?
Ayesha Gulzar
he orange and pink clouds that make up what remains after the explosive death of a massive star
The orange and pink clouds that make up what remains after the explosive death of a massive star

ESO/VPHAS+ team. Acknowledgement: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit  

This 554-million-pixel image from the European Southern Observatory's (ESO's) VLT Survey Telescope (VST) shows stunning yet somewhat spooky remains of a massive star that exploded in a cosmic catastrophe hundreds of years ago.

The star named the Vela supernova remnant, due to its location in the southern constellation Vela, ended its life in a powerful explosion around 11,000 years ago. And all that remains of the massive star is this pink and orange web of clouds.

When a massive old star explodes, the energy released is almost unimaginable. It goes out with a bang in an outburst called a supernova. A wave of destruction moves through the doomed star from the inside out, blasting away surrounding gas, compressing it, and creating intricate thread-like structures. The released energy heats the gaseous tendrils, making them shine brightly, as seen in this image.

The Vela supernova remnant is one of the closest supernova remnants to Earth, at a distance of only 800 light years away. And it's huge as well! According to experts, nine full moons can fit in this entire image, and the whole cloud is even larger.

The star itself has been reduced in the aftermath of the supernova to an incredibly dense spinning object called a pulsar. A pulsar is a type of neutron star - one of the most compact celestial objects known to exist. This one rotates ten times per second.

How an astronomical image is processed?

Telescope captures the spooky remains of a massive dead star
VST image processing workflow

This image shows the process of going from the raw data captured by a telescope to a stunning astronomical image like the one featured here, showing the Vela supernova remnant as seen with the VLT Survey Telescope (VST).

An array of 32 detectors registers the light collected by the telescope. The raw images are corrected by removing the dead pixels, shadows, and varying luminosity. This process of going from raw to science-ready data is called "data reduction".

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When an astronomical object is larger than the field of view, different images are combined in a mosaic. This allows scientists to fill in the gaps between the detectors. The mosaic image is visually inspected and corrected again for any residual artifacts.

Instead of capturing colored images, astronomical detectors take several images separately using different filters. These images are then assigned different colors and combined into a final colored image.

The extremely detailed view of the Vela supernova remnant image is a mosaic of pictures taken by the 268 million-pixel OmegaCAM wide-field camera of the VST. The camera can capture images using several different filters that allow for varied wavelengths of light and colors — hence the magenta, blue, green, and red colors in the image.

With its 2.6-meter mirror, VST is one of the largest telescopes dedicated to surveying the night sky in visible light, helping astronomers unlock the secrets of our universe.

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