Light continues to echo three years after stellar outburst

Feb 03, 2005
Star V838 Monocerotis (V838 Mon)

The Hubble Space Telescope's latest image of the star V838 Monocerotis (V838 Mon) reveals dramatic changes in the illumination of surrounding dusty cloud structures. The effect, called a light echo, has been unveiling never-before-seen dust patterns ever since the star suddenly brightened for several weeks in early 2002.

The illumination of interstellar dust comes from the red supergiant star at the middle of the image, which gave off a pulse of light three years ago, somewhat similar to setting off a flashbulb in a darkened room. The dust surrounding V838 Mon may have been ejected from the star during a previous explosion, similar to the 2002 event.

The echoing of light through space is similar to the echoing of sound through air. As light from the stellar explosion continues to propagate outwards, different parts of the surrounding dust are illuminated, just as a sound echo bounces off of objects near the source, and later, objects further from the source. Eventually, when light from the back side of the nebula begins to arrive, the light echo will give the illusion of contracting, and finally it will disappear.

V838 Mon is located about 20,000 light-years away from Earth in the direction of the constellation Monoceros, placing the star at the outer edge of our Milky Way galaxy. The Hubble telescope has imaged V838 Mon and its light echo several times since the star's outburst. Each time Hubble observes the event, different thin sections of the dust are seen as the pulse of illumination continues to expand away from the star at the speed of light, producing a constantly changing appearance. During the outburst event whose light reached Earth in 2002, the normally faint star suddenly brightened, becoming 600,000 times more luminous than our Sun.

The new image of V838 Mon, taken with Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys, was prepared from images obtained through filters that isolate blue, green, and infrared light. These images have been combined to produce a full-colour picture that approximates the true colours of the light echo and the very red star near the centre.

Explore further: NASA's Curiosity Mars rover studies rock-layer contact zone

Related Stories

RS Puppis puts on a spectacular light show

Dec 17, 2013

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has observed the variable star RS Puppis over a period of five weeks, showing the star growing brighter and dimmer as it pulsates. These pulsations have created a stunning ...

Astronomers discover light echo from supernova

Jun 04, 2013

(Phys.org) —Astronomers have discovered light echoing off material surrounding a recent supernova explosion, SN 2009ig. The dust and gas that are reflecting the light are so close to the eruption center ...

Recommended for you

What is a terrestrial planet?

14 hours ago

In studying our solar system over the course of many centuries, astronomers learned a great deal about the types of planets that exist in our universe. This knowledge has since expanded thanks to the discovery ...

Working out in artificial gravity

15 hours ago

Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) have a number of exercise options, including a mechanical bicycle bolted to the floor, a weightlifting machine strapped to the wall, and a strap-down treadmill. ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.