Spaghetti Nebula: The last supernova observed by Neanderthals

This incredible picture of colorful clouds is a trace of a huge cosmic explosion, the light of which may have been seen by the last Neanderthals on Earth about 40 thousand years ago. At a distance of 3,000 light-years from us, the light of this supernova could be seen in the night sky as an extremely bright new star, which slowly faded out after a few weeks or months.

Spaghetti Nebula is a remnant of the supernova Simeis 147. Photo: Stéphane Vetter

Today, the strikingly bright light of this ancient explosion has long since faded, leaving behind the Spaghetti Nebula (Semeis 147), which cannot be seen with the naked eye, even though it covers a strip of sky six times the width of the full Moon. Most of the gas filaments that define the name of the nebula consist of hydrogen, indicated in red in the image. The blue color indicates the presence of oxygen gas, which was probably one of the components that dissolved deep into the heart of the massive star before its bright and dramatic demise. 

When a star runs out of its nuclear fuel supply, it simply collapses from its own enormous mass. The force of this sudden collapse leads to one of the most powerful explosions in the universe, which throws the outer layers of the star into space. All the tangled tangles of gas filaments forming the Spaghetti Nebula were once packed into a star that had a mass 8 to 15 times greater than our Sun. 

Meanwhile, the core of the dead star turned into a pulsar PSR J0538+2817 — a ball of matter of such high density that atoms decay into neutrons. During rotation around its axis, this neutron star generates a powerful magnetic field that directs charged particles into a pair of jets traveling from the poles. These jets also emit radio waves that pierce the sky, shining like the bizarre rays of a lighthouse.

The debris cloud of this ancient supernova is still expanding. Today, its width is approximately 150 light-years.

Earlier we told interesting facts about supernovae.

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