Thursday, February 03, 2005

Captured: an exploding star, 20,000 light years away

The Hubble space telescope has captured a dramatic moment when a searing pulse of light from an exploding star races across the vast interstellar void of deep space.

Hubble's latest image, released yesterday, shows the "echoing" of light as it continues its journey from the exploding red supergiant star at the centre of the picture.

Just as sound produces an echo, the same happens for light as it propagates out from the explosion to illuminate huge swirls of dust clouds that are thought to have emanated from a previous outburst.

Astronomers first detected the exploding red supergiant star back in 2002 and, since then, have captured a series of dramatic images as the light pulse explosion expands at a speed of 186,000 miles per second.

The exploding star is known as V838 Mon and is some 20,000 light years away from the Earth in the direction of the constellation Monoceros, on the very edge of the Milky Way.

During its 15 years, Hubble has offered convincing proof of black holes, provided insight into huge explosions of energy known as gamma ray bursts, captured images of the earliest galaxies that formed after the Big Bang and measured the speed at which the universe is expanding.

Escalating costs of repair and maintenance of Hubble has led Nasa and the White House to consider putting the space telescope into retirement - its batteries will run out in two or three years' time if they are not replaced.


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