The latest image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope shows a glimpse of an elegant, delicate portion of a huge round nebula which was formed when a star 20 times the mass of our sun exploded between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago.
The supernova explosion was so fierce that the dust and gas at the edge of the shock wave is still moving at a speed of over 200 miles per second, and since the event the remnant has expanded out 60 light-years from its original position.
This image shows just one section of the Cygnus Loop, the remnants of a supernova blast located 1,500 light-years away, and despite this distance the loop is so large that it covers an area 36 times larger than the full moon. It is given its name because it is located near the Cygnus constellation, where is sits near one of the swan’s “wings.”
If you recognize the name Cygnus Loop, it may well be from another image taken by Hubble which we picked as one of the 10 best images the telescope captured since its launch. This is the Veil Nebula, another part of the same supernova remnant as the new image above, which was named for its delicate, draping appearance. Hubble had to take six different images and scientists arranged them into this mosaic to capture the nebula portion in all its glory:
This particular part of the loop is considered to be its own nebula, and this portion measures 110 light-years across in total. The line shape was formed by the shock wave of the supernova explosion, and it is wispy due to filaments of gas where the blast wave meets a region of cooler gas.