Image: Hubble's cosmic holiday wreath

December 21, 2018, NASA
Credit: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) – Hubble/Europe Collaboration; Acknowledgement: H. Bond (STScI and Pennsylvania State University)

This festive NASA Hubble Space Telescope image resembles a holiday wreath made of sparkling lights. The bright southern hemisphere star RS Puppis, at the center of the image, is swaddled in a gossamer cocoon of reflective dust illuminated by the glittering star. The super star is ten times more massive than the sun and 200 times larger.

RS Puppis rhythmically brightens and dims over a six-week cycle. It is one of the most luminous in the class of so-called Cepheid . Its average intrinsic brightness is 15,000 times greater than the sun's luminosity.

The nebula flickers in brightness as pulses of light from the Cepheid propagate outwards. Hubble took a series of photos of light flashes rippling across the nebula in a phenomenon known as a "." Even though light travels through space fast enough to span the gap between Earth and the moon in a little over a second, the nebula is so large that can actually be photographed traversing the nebula.

By observing the fluctuation of light in RS Puppis itself, as well as recording the faint reflections of light pulses moving across the nebula, astronomers are able to measure these light echoes and pin down a very accurate distance. The distance to RS Puppis has been narrowed down to 6,500 -years (with a margin of error of only one percent).

Explore further: RS Puppis puts on a spectacular light show

Related Stories

RS Puppis puts on a spectacular light show

December 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 example of a ...

Light echoes whisper the distance to a star

February 11, 2008

Taking advantage of the presence of light echoes, a team of astronomers have used an ESO telescope to measure, at the 1% precision level, the distance of a Cepheid - a class of variable stars that constitutes one of the first ...

The ghost of Cassiopeia

October 25, 2018

About 550 light-years away in the constellation of Cassiopeia lies IC 63, a stunning and slightly eerie nebula. Also known as the ghost of Cassiopeia, IC 63 is being shaped by radiation from a nearby unpredictably variable ...

Hubble captures brilliant star death in 'rotten egg' nebula

February 3, 2017

The Calabash Nebula, pictured here—which has the technical name OH 231.8+04.2—is a spectacular example of the death of a low-mass star like the sun. This image taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows the star ...

Two Hubble views of the same stellar nursery

April 19, 2018

These NASA Hubble Space Telescope images compare two diverse views of the roiling heart of a vast stellar nursery, known as the Lagoon Nebula. The images, one taken in visible and the other in infrared light, celebrate Hubble's ...

Hubble view of a nitrogen-rich nebula

June 29, 2015

This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows a planetary nebula named NGC 6153, located about 4,000 light-years away in the southern constellation of Scorpius (The Scorpion).

Recommended for you

Saturn hasn't always had rings

January 17, 2019

One of the last acts of NASA's Cassini spacecraft before its death plunge into Saturn's hydrogen and helium atmosphere was to coast between the planet and its rings and let them tug it around, essentially acting as a gravity ...

0 comments

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.