NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope snapped a picture of a delicate sphere of gas, otherwise known as SNR 0509-67.5 (or SNR 0509 for short). This pristine shell, or bubble, is the result of gas being shocked by an expanding blast wave from a supernova. It’s located in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), which is about 160,000 light-years away from Earth.
The bubble-shaped shroud of gas is 23 light-years across and is expanding at more than 11 million miles per hour (5,000 kilometers per second). The ripples on its surface may be caused by either subtle variations in the density of the ambient interstellar gas, or pieces of ejecta being driven from within.
Astronomers have concluded that this particular explosion was a particularly energetic and bright variety known as a Type Ia supernova. These events are believed to occur when a white dwarf star in a binary system takes on too much mass from its partner and eventually explodes.
Interestingly, this supernova may have been visible to southern hemisphere observers around the year 1600. Although there’s no record of it being spotted then, a more recent supernova in the same area, SN 1987A, has been seen and studied with both ground- and space-based telescopes – including Hubble.
It’s amazing to think that 400 years ago, people possibly could have seen this explosion taking place so far away from our planet. Thankfully, with modern technology like the Hubble Space Telescope, we can gain an insight into this phenomenon that we may never have had before.