Hubble Investigates Stellar Shrapnel

Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Y. Chu

Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Y. Chu

August 19, 2016 – Several thousand years ago, a star about 160,000 light-years away from Earth exploded, scattering stellar shrapnel across the sky. The aftermath of this energetic detonation is shown here in this striking image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3.

The exploding star was a white dwarf located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, one of the Milky Way’s nearest neighboring galaxies. Around 97 percent of stars within the Milky Way that are between a tenth and eight times the mass of the sun are expected to become white dwarfs. These stars can face a number of different fates, one of which is to explode as supernovae, some of the brightest events ever observed in the universe.

If a white dwarf is part of a binary star system, it can siphon material from a close companion. After gobbling up more than it can handle — and swelling to approximately one and a half times the size of the sun — the star becomes unstable and ignites as a Type Ia supernova.

This was the case for the supernova remnant pictured here, which is known as DEM L71. It formed when a white dwarf reached the end of its life and ripped itself apart, ejecting a superheated cloud of debris in the process. Slamming into the surrounding interstellar gas, this stellar shrapnel gradually diffused into the separate fiery filaments of material seen scattered across this skycap.

Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 was Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colorado. The camera is one of seven instruments built by Ball Aerospace. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Sunnyvale, California, was responsible for building Hubble’s cylindrical casing and the Support Systems Module, and for integrating the telescope. The Cosmic Origins Spectrograph instrument was designed by the University of Colorado Boulder.