Washington, July 2 : NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has sent back images that show a delicate ribbon of gas, which is a very thin section of a supernova remnant caused by a stellar explosion that occurred more than 1,000 years ago.
On or around May 1, 1006 A.D., observers from Africa to Europe to the Far East witnessed and recorded the arrival of light from what is now called SN 1006, a tremendous supernova explosion caused by the final death throes of a white dwarf star nearly 7,000 light-years away.
The supernova was probably the brightest star ever seen by humans, and surpassed Venus as the brightest object in the night time sky, only to be surpassed by the moon.
It was visible even during the day for weeks, and remained visible to the naked eye for at least two and a half years before fading away.
It wasn't until the mid-1960s that radio astronomers first detected a nearly circular ring of material at the recorded position of the supernova. The ring was almost 30 arcminutes across, the same angular diameter as the full moon.
The size of the remnant implied that the blast wave from the supernova had expanded at nearly 20 million miles per hour over the nearly 1,000 years since the explosion occurred.
In 1976, the first detection of exceedingly faint optical emission of the supernova remnant was reported, but only for a filament located on the northwest edge of the radio ring.
Now, a tiny portion of this filament is revealed in detail by the Hubble observation.
The twisting ribbon of light seen by Hubble corresponds to locations where the expanding blast wave from the supernova is now sweeping into very tenuous surrounding gas.
The hydrogen gas heated by this fast shock wave emits radiation in visible light. Hence, the optical emission provides astronomers with a detailed "snapshot" of the actual position and geometry of the shock front at any given time.
Bright edges within the ribbon correspond to places where the shock wave is seen exactly edge on to our line of sight.
The image is a composite of hydrogen-light observations taken with Hubble's Advancedamera for Surveys in February 2006 and Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 observations in blue, yellow-green, and near-infrared light taken in April 2008.
The supernova remnant, visible only in the hydrogen-light filter was assigned a red hue in the Heritage color image.