NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, which observes in infrared wavelengths, photographed one of the Milky Way’s largest supernova remnants in exquisite color and detail.
Supernova remnants are clouds left behind after a massive star explodes in a supernova after running out of fuel. Designated HBH 3, this particular remnant, which has a diameter of approximately 150 light years, was first detected by radio telescopes in 1966.
In addition to being one of the largest known supernova remnants, HBH 3 is also one of the oldest. Scientists estimate its precursor star exploded sometime between 80,000 and one million years ago.
Extremely high-energy light in the form of gamma rays was detected coming from near HBH 3 in 2016 by NASA’s Fermi Gamma-Ray Telescope. Some scientists theorize that particles being emitted by the supernova remnant are exciting gas in nearby star-forming regions.
Supernova remnants emit both infrared and optical light. A white, cloud-like feature toward the left side of the Spitzer image is actually three separate star-forming regions, designated as W3, W4, and W5. Located 6,400 light years away, these regions extend far beyond what is seen in the image.
Red filaments seen in the center and top of the photo are made up of molecular gases, which were both produced and energized in the supernova explosion, causing them to radiate infrared light.
Infrared light is slightly less energetic than optical light. In this photo of HBH 3, infrared wavelengths of 3.6 microns are mapped to blue while those of 4.5 microns are mapped to red. The filaments radiate light solely at the 4.5-micron wavelength.
The white, star -forming region is a combination of both wavelengths.
To end their lives as supernovae, stars must have a minimum of eight to 15 solar masses.
As of August 25, Spitzer will mark 15 years of being in space.