Supernovas are the dramatic death of certain types of stars. These brilliant points of light marking a star’s end of life can briefly outshine entire galaxies and radiate more energy than our sun will in its entire lifetime. NASA has now created a mesmerising 3D simulation revealing what it would look like to explore the very heart of an exploding supernova.
NASA has released an interactive, three-dimensional model of Cassiopeia A, an expanding cloud of material formed from an exploding star.
An army of colours in the visualisation represents a different wavelength of light — not all of which would naturally be visible to the human eye — enabling us to see the supernova in its glory.
The supernova model was developed by Kimberly Arcand, from NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory.
She used real observations of the supernova Cassiopeia A to create her the psychedelic simulation.
Mz Arcand combined data from the orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Spitzer Space Telescope, in addition to National Optical Astronomy and MDM Observatories telescopes.
The telescopes observed the supernova not only using the visible light that our eyes can see, but also in the gamma ray, infrared, radio, ultraviolet and X-ray wavelengths.
In the simulation, these different wavelengths are made visible by representing them in different colours.
Mrs Arcand said: “All of that data has to be translated and processed in a way that humans can see, so it’s really important to be able to study our universe using different kinds of light.
“Each band of light gives you different information, so it’s like adding puzzle pieces to fit into the greater whole.”
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The combined visualisation is a multicoloured flurry of green iron, magenta neon, red argon and yellow silicon gas clouds, punctuated by purple jets of rapidly moving, energetic matter streaming out through the debris.
At the heart of the vivid cloud can be seen the image of a neutron star.
Neutron stars are small, ultra-dense stellar remains from when a giant star collapses in on itself and goes supernova.
These explosions — the largest known to take place in space — occur near the end of a star’s lifetime as it runs out of nuclear fuel.
Such a star’s core will eventually no longer able to maintain enough outward pressure and it collapses in on itself, triggering an explosion spewing gas and dust into space.
The visualisation depicts the remnant supernova Cassiopeia A, which is located around 11,000 light years away from the Earth.
The cloud left behind after the supernova stretches across 10 light years and is still thought to be expanding, possibly by up to 3,700 miles (6,000 kilometres) every second.
This supernova debris has a temperature of around 28 million degrees Celsius (50 million degrees F).
Cassiopeia A was first described by scientists in 1947, but its light likely first became visible on the Earth around 300 years ago, although there are no definite historical records of the supernova itself having been observed.