ESO Captures The Ghostly Remains Of A Giant Star

A creepy spider web, magical dragons, or ghostly trails? What do you notice in this photograph of the Vela supernova remnant? This stunning colour tapestry depicts the ghostly remains of a massive star and was caught in remarkable detail with the VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO’s) Paranal location in Chile.

The Remnants Of An Old Star

All that remains of a big star that died in a violent explosion some 11,000 years ago is a wispy structure of pink and orange clouds. When the most massive stars die, they often go out with a bang in an outburst known as a supernova. 

These explosions generate shock waves, which compress the surrounding atmosphere and form delicate thread-like formations. The released energy warms the gaseous tendrils, causing them to glow brilliantly, as shown in this photograph.

The Vela Supernova

We receive an exceptionally comprehensive look of the Vela supernova remnant, named after the southern constellation Vela, in this 554-million-pixel photograph (The Sails). 

This image could fit nine full Moons, and the overall cloud is considerably larger. This spectacular supernova remnant is one of the nearest to Earth, approximately 800 light-years distant.

What Happened During The Supernova?

The progenitor star’s outermost layers were flung into the surrounding gas when it exploded, resulting in the stunning filaments seen here. The star’s remnants are an ultra-dense ball in which protons and electrons are squeezed together to form neutrons—a neutron star. 

The neutron star in the Vela remnant, which is located somewhat outside of the image to the upper left, is a pulsar, which spins on its own axis at a rate of more than 10 times per second.

How Was This Image Created?

The wide-field camera OmegaCAM at the ESO Paranal Observatory was used to create a mosaic of images for the VLT Survey Telescope in Chile (VST). 

The 268-million-pixel camera can take pictures with a variety of filters that let light of various colors flow through. 

The Vela remnant, here depicted by a mixture of magenta, blue, green, and red, was photographed using four different filters.


One of the largest telescopes for surveying the night sky in visible light, the VST is owned by Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF). It has a 2.6-meter mirror. This image is an illustration from one such study, the Southern Galactic Plane and Bulge VST Photometric H Survey (VPHAS+). 

With the help of this survey, which has been mapping a sizable chunk of our galaxy for more than seven years, astronomers are now better equipped to comprehend how stars are created, develop, and ultimately die.

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