Hubble picture of space phenomenon imitates art
SPACE TELESCOPE SCIENCE INSTITUTE NEWS RELEASE
Posted: March 4, 2004
"Starry Night," Vincent van Gogh's famous painting, is renowned for its bold whorls of light sweeping across a raging night sky. Although this image of the heavens came only from the artist's restless imagination, a new picture from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope bears remarkable similarities to the van Gogh work, complete with never-before-seen spirals of dust swirling across trillions of miles of interstellar space.
Called a light echo, the expanding illumination of a dusty cloud around the star has been revealing remarkable structures ever since the star suddenly brightened for several weeks in early 2002. Though Hubble has followed the light echo in several snapshots, this new image shows swirls or eddies in the dusty cloud for the first time.
These eddies are probably caused by turbulence in the dust and gas around the star as they slowly expand away. The dust and gas were likely ejected from the star in a previous explosion, similar to the 2002 event, which occurred some tens of thousands of years ago.
The surrounding dust remained invisible and unsuspected until suddenly illuminated by the brilliant explosion of the central star two years ago.
The star has some similarities to a class of objects called "novae," which suddenly increase in brightness due to thermonuclear explosions at their surfaces; however, the detailed behavior of V838 Mon, in particular its extremely red color, has been completely different from any previously known nova.
Nature's own piece of performance art, this structure will continue to change its appearance in coming years as the light from the stellar outburst continues to propagate outward and bounce off more distant black clouds of dust. Astronomers expect the echoes to remain visible for at least the rest of the current decade.
The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA), for NASA, under contract with the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD. The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).
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