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NASA’s Webb Stuns With New High-Definition Look at Exploded Star


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NASA’s Webb Stuns With New High-Definition Look at Exploded Star

Cassiopeia A, a circular-shaped cloud of gas and dust with complex structure. The inner shell is made of bright pink and orange filaments studded with clumps and knots that look like tiny pieces of shattered glass. Around the exterior of the inner shell, particularly at the upper right, there are curtains of wispy gas that look like campfire smoke. The white smoke-like material also appears to fill the cavity of the inner shell, featuring structures shaped like large bubbles. Around and within the nebula, there are various stars seen as points of blue and white light. Outside the nebula, there are also clumps of yellow dust, with a particularly large clump at the bottom right corner that appears to have very detailed striations.
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s new view of Cassiopeia A (Cas A)
Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, D. Milisavljevic (Purdue University), T. Temim (Princeton University), I. De Looze (University of Gent)

Mysterious features hide in near-infrared light

Like a shiny, round ornament ready to be placed in the perfect spot on a holiday tree, supernova remnant Cassiopeia A (Cas A) gleams in a new image from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. As part of the 2023 Holidays at the White House, First Lady of the United States Dr. Jill Biden debuted the first-ever White House Advent Calendar. To showcase the “Magic, Wonder, and Joy” of the holiday season, Dr. Biden and NASA are celebrating with this new image from Webb.

While all is bright, this scene is no proverbial silent night. Webb’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) view of Cas A displays this stellar explosion at a resolution previously unreachable at these wavelengths. This high-resolution look unveils intricate details of the expanding shell of material slamming into the gas shed by the star before it exploded.

Cas A is one of the most well-studied supernova remnants in all of the cosmos. Over the years, ground-based and space-based observatories, including NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope, and retired Spitzer Space Telescope have assembled a multiwavelength picture of the object’s remnant.

However, astronomers have now entered a new era in the study of Cas A. In April 2023, Webb’s MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument) started this chapter, revealing new and unexpected features within the inner shell of the supernova remnant. Many of those features are invisible in the new NIRCam image, and astronomers are investigating why.

Image: Cassiopeia A (NIRCam)

Cassiopeia A, a circular-shaped cloud of gas and dust with complex structure. The inner shell is made of bright pink and orange filaments studded with clumps and knots that look like tiny pieces of shattered glass. Around the exterior of the inner shell, particularly at the upper right, there are curtains of wispy gas that look like campfire smoke. The white smoke-like material also appears to fill the cavity of the inner shell, featuring structures shaped like large bubbles. Around and within the nebula, there are various stars seen as points of blue and white light. Outside the nebula, there are also clumps of yellow dust, with a particularly large clump at the bottom right corner that appears to have very detailed striations.
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s new view of Cassiopeia A (Cas A) in near-infrared light is giving astronomers hints at the dynamical processes occurring within the supernova remnant. Tiny clumps represented in bright pink and orange make up the supernova’s inner shell, and are comprised of sulfur, oxygen, argon, and neon from the star itself. A large, striated blob at the bottom right corner of the image, nicknamed Baby Cas A, is one of the few light echoes visible NIRCam’s field of view. In this image, red, green, and blue were assigned to Webb’s NIRCam data at 4.4, 3.56, and 1.62 microns (F444W, F356W, and F162M, respectively).
NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, D. Milisavljevic (Purdue University), T. Temim (Princeton University), I. De Looze (University of Gent)

‘Like Shards of Glass’

Infrared light is invisible to our eyes, so image processors and scientists translate these wavelengths of light to visible colors. In this newest image of Cas A, colors were assigned to different filters from NIRCam, and each of those colors hints at different activity occurring within the object.

At first glance, the NIRCam image may appear less colorful than the MIRI image. However, this simply comes down to the wavelengths in which the material from the object is emitting its light.

The most noticeable colors in Webb’s newest image are clumps represented in bright orange and light pink that make up the inner shell of the supernova remnant. Webb’s razor-sharp view can detect the tiniest knots of gas, comprised of sulfur, oxygen, argon, and neon from the star itself. Embedded in this gas is a mixture of dust and molecules, which will eventually become components of new stars and planetary systems. Some filaments of debris are too tiny to be resolved by even Webb, meaning they are comparable to or less than 10 billion miles across (around 100 astronomical units). In comparison, the entirety of Cas A spans 10 light-years across, or 60 trillion miles.

“With NIRCam’s resolution, we can now see how the dying star absolutely shattered when it exploded, leaving filaments akin to tiny shards of glass behind,” said Danny Milisavljevic of Purdue University, who leads the research team. “It’s really unbelievable after all these years studying Cas A to now resolve those details, which are providing us with transformational insight into how this star exploded.”

Image: Cassiopeia A NIRCam/MIRI

A comparison between two images, one on the left (labeled NIRCam), and on the right (labeled MIRI), separated by a white line. Both are a square image rotated clockwise about 45 degrees, with solid black in the top left, top right, bottom left, and bottom right corners. On the left, the image is a circular-shaped cloud of gas and dust with complex structure. The inner shell is made of bright pink and orange filaments that look like tiny pieces of shattered glass. Around the exterior of the inner shell are curtains of wispy gas that look like campfire smoke. The white smoke-like material also fills the cavity of the inner shell, with structures shaped like large bubbles. Outside the nebula, there are also clumps of yellow dust. On the right, is the same nebula in different light. The curtains of material outside the inner shell glow orange instead of white. The inner shell looks more mottled, and is a muted pink. At center right, a greenish loop extends from the right side of the ring into the central cavity.
This image provides a side-by-side comparison of supernova remnant Cassiopeia A (Cas A) as captured by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) and MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument). Objects in space reveal different aspects of their composition and behavior at different wavelengths. The outskirts of Cas A’s main inner shell, which appeared as a deep orange and red in the MIRI image, look like smoke from a campfire in the NIRCam image. The dust in the circumstellar material being slammed into by the shockwave is too cool to be detected directly at near-infrared wavelengths, but lights up in the mid-infrared. Also not seen in the near-infrared view is the loop of green light in the central cavity of Cas A that glows in mid-infrared, nicknamed the Green Monster by the research team.
NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, D. Milisavljevic (Purdue University), T. Temim (Princeton University), I. De Looze (University of Gent)

Hidden Green Monster

When comparing Webb’s new near-infrared view of Cas A with the mid-infrared view, its inner cavity and outermost shell are curiously devoid of color.

The outskirts of the main inner shell, which appeared as a deep orange and red in the MIRI image, now look like smoke from a campfire. This marks where the supernova blast wave is ramming into surrounding circumstellar material. The dust in the circumstellar material is too cool to be detected directly at near-infrared wavelengths, but lights up in the mid-infrared.

Researchers say the white color is light from synchrotron radiation, which is emitted across the electromagnetic spectrum, including the near-infrared. It’s generated by charged particles traveling at extremely high speeds spiraling around magnetic field lines. Synchrotron radiation is also visible in the bubble-like shells in the lower half of the inner cavity.

Also not seen in the near-infrared view is the loop of green light in the central cavity of Cas A that glowed in mid-infrared, nicknamed the Green Monster by the research team. This feature was described as “challenging to understand” by researchers at the time of their first look.

While the ‘green’ of the Green Monster is not visible in NIRCam, what’s left over in the near-infrared in that region can provide insight into the mysterious feature. The circular holes visible in the MIRI image are faintly outlined in white and purple emission in the NIRCam image – this represents ionized gas. Researchers believe this is due to the supernova debris pushing through and sculpting gas left behind by the star before it exploded.

Image: Cassiopeia A Features

The image is split into 5 boxes. A large image at the left-hand side takes up most of the image. There are four images along the right-hand side in a column, labeled 1, 2, 3, and 4. The 4 images in the column are zoomed-in areas of the larger square image on the left. The image on the left has a circular-shaped cloud of gas and dust with complex structure, with an inner shell of bright pink and orange filaments that look like tiny pieces of shattered glass. A zoom-in of this material appears in the box labeled 1. Around the exterior of the inner shell in the main image there are wispy curtains of gas that look like campfire smoke. Within the cavity of the inner shell, there are small circular bubbles outlined in white. Box 2 is a zoom-in on these circles. Scattered outside the nebula in the main image, there are also clumps of yellow dust. Boxes 3 and 4 are zoomed-in areas of these clumps. Box 4 highlights a particularly large clump at the bottom right of the main image that is detailed and striated.
This image highlights several interesting features of supernova remnant Cassiopeia A as seen with Webb’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera): NIRCam’s exquisite resolution is able to detect tiny knots of gas, comprised of sulfur, oxygen, argon, and neon from the star itself; Circular holes visible in the MIRI image within the Green Monster are faintly outlined in white and purple emission in the NIRCam image; An example of a light echo – when light from the star’s long-ago explosion has reached, and is warming, distant dust, which is glowing as it cools down; A particularly intricate and large light echo, nicknamed Baby Cas A by researchers.
NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, D. Milisavljevic (Purdue University), T. Temim (Princeton University), I. De Looze (University of Gent).

Baby Cas A

Researchers were also absolutely stunned by one fascinating feature at the bottom right corner of NIRCam’s field of view. They’re calling that large, striated blob Baby Cas A – because it appears like an offspring of the main supernova.

This is a light echo, where light from the star’s long-ago explosion has reached and is warming distant dust, which is glowing as it cools down. The intricacy of the dust pattern, and Baby Cas A’s apparent proximity to Cas A itself, are particularly intriguing to researchers. In actuality, Baby Cas A is located about 170 light-years behind the supernova remnant.

There are also several other, smaller light echoes scattered throughout Webb’s new portrait.

The Cas A supernova remnant is located 11,000 light-years away in the constellation Cassiopeia. It’s estimated to have exploded about 340 years ago from our point of view.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s premier space science observatory. Webb is solving mysteries in our solar system, looking beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probing the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

Media Contacts

Laura Betzlaura.e.betz@nasa.gov, Rob Gutrorob.gutro@nasa.gov
NASA’s  Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Hannah Braun hbraun@stsci.edu , Christine Pulliamcpulliam@stsci.edu
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.

Downloads

Download full resolution images for this article from the Space Telescope Science Institute.

View/download a video tour of Cassiopeia A from the Space Telescope Science Institute.

Right click the images in this article to open a larger version in a new tab/window.

Related Information

Lifecycle of Stars

More Webb News – https://science.nasa.gov/mission/webb/latestnews/

More Webb Images – https://science.nasa.gov/mission/webb/multimedia/images/

Webb Mission Page – https://science.nasa.gov/mission/webb/

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Last Updated
Dec 10, 2023
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      Smith, a Media Fusion employee and the Marshall Star editor, supports the Marshall Office of Communications.
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      Silver Snoopy Awards Presented to 17 Marshall Team Members
      By Jessica Barnett
      Seventeen team members at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center joined an elite group within the agency’s ranks June 11 as they accepted an award that’s granted to less than 1% of NASA’s workforce: the Silver Snoopy.
      An astronaut presents the award each year to NASA employees and contractors who have gone above and beyond in contributing to the human spaceflight program. It is a symbol of the intent and spirit of Space Flight Awareness and includes a sterling silver Snoopy lapel pin that has flown in space, along with a certificate of appreciation and a commendation letter for the employee, both signed by the astronaut.
      Recipients of the 2024 Silver Snoopy Awards at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center pose with their awards and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, center, June 11 in Activities Building 4316. From left, front row, Mark Montgomery, Brian Saunders, Mignon Thame, Jessica Chaffin, Rubins, Stefanie Justice, Ellen Rabenberg, and Vince Vanek; back row, Manish Mehta, Bill Sadowski, Brad Addona, Christopher Buckley, Jonathan Burkholder, Joseph McCollister, Stacey Steele, Michael Fiske, Paul Gradl, and Trey Cate. NASA/Charles Beason “One of my favorite parts about my job is getting to share and celebrate the accomplishments of the best that NASA has to offer, and helping to give out the Silver Snoopy awards is just that opportunity,” said Larry Leopard, who serves as associate director, technical, at Marshall and joined NASA astronaut Kate Rubins to present the awards. “These employees embody the More to Marshall slogan – words that signify growth, ambition, and continuous improvement. They’re leaders in cultivating a mindset where every one of us is encouraged to think differently, act decisively, and innovate relentlessly.”
      “When we are doing highly dangerous activities, like getting on a rocket to the International Space Station or developing programs for Moon to Mars, we rely on everyone in NASA to support that end goal of exploration and safety,” Rubins said. “Our mission success is in their hands, and this is our way of saying thank you for everything they do.”
      NASA astronaut Kate Rubins speaks to attendees at Marshall’s 2024 Silver Snoopy Awards Ceremony held June 11 in Activities Building 4316.NASA/Charles Beason The following team members were honored during the ceremony in Activities Building 4316:
      Brad Addona, Engineering Directorate Christopher Buckley, Human Exploration Development and Operations Office Jonathan Burkholder, Engineering Directorate Trey Cate, Office of Strategic Analysis and Communications Jessica Chaffin, Engineering Directorate Michael Fiske, Jacobs/ESSCA, Science and Technology Office Paul Gradl, Engineering Directorate Stefanie Justice, Engineering Directorate Joseph McCollister, Space Launch System Program Manish Mehta, Engineering Directorate Mark Montgomery, Jacobs/ESSCA, Engineering Directorate Ellen Rabenberg, Engineering Directorate Bill Sadowski, Jacobs/ESSCA, Engineering Directorate Brian Saunders, L3Harris Stacey Steele, Human Exploration Development and Operations Office Mignon Thames, Human Landing System Program Vince Vanek, Office of the General Counsel The Silver Snoopy pins awarded flew on NASA’s SpaceX Cargo Resupply Mission-9. The Silver Snoopy award is one of eight awards presented annually by Space Flight Awareness. Additional information, including eligibility criteria, can be found here. 
      Barnett, a Media Fusion employee, supports the Marshall Office of Communications.
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      Marshall Engineer Kurt Polzin Receives AIAA Honors Award
      By Daniel Boyette
      Advanced space nuclear propulsion systems are critical to NASA’s Moon to Mars vision. On May 15, one of the individuals at the forefront of those future exploration efforts was honored for his contributions.
      Kurt Polzin, chief engineer for the Space Nuclear Propulsion Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, received the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Engineer of the Year award during its awards gala at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington.
      AIAA Executive Director Daniel Dumbacher, left, and AIAA President Laura McGill, right, present NASA Space Nuclear Propulsion Chief Engineer Kurt Polzin with the Engineer of the Year Award at the AIAA Awards Gala on May 15 at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.Photo courtesy of AIAA “The use of nuclear technologies will become increasingly important as the nation returns humans to the Moon and then goes onward to Mars, and realizing these benefits will take not just a NASA effort, but a national effort,” Polzin told the audience. “It’s a privilege to work with and lead some of the best people in government, industry, and academia, bringing the nation closer to a future where nuclear power and propulsion technologies in space become common. What we do today will enable science missions and human exploration beyond anything humans have ever achieved for current and future generations of scientists and explorers.”
      Since 2021, Polzin has overseen NASA’s nuclear propulsion technology development and maturation efforts. He’s also the chief engineer for the agency’s partnership with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) on the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program, which aims to demonstrate a nuclear thermal propulsion system in space as soon as 2027.
      “To live and work on the Moon, we’ll need a power and transportation infrastructure, and nuclear space systems offer key capability benefits over current state-of-art,” said Anthony Calomino, NASA’s Space Nuclear Technologies portfolio manager under the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. “Kurt’s leadership in this journey to mature our space nuclear propulsion technology is what will get us there. We are proud to see him recognized as AIAA’s Engineer of the Year.”
      Q&A with Kurt Polzin
      Q: What were your emotions when you went to accept the award?
      Polzin: The list of those who have previously received this award is long and illustrious, so it is an honor to be nominated for it. Being selected by my peers as the recipient was a very thrilling and humbling experience. Receiving it at the Kennedy Center, in the presence of many aerospace leaders and my wife in the audience, made it a truly unique and memorable experience.
      Q: You’ve previously stated that individual awards are really team awards. How has being a member of a team helped you to be successful?
      Polzin: Realizing big ideas requires the contributions and expertise of many people across a range of skills and disciplines, and using nuclear technologies in space is about the most significant idea there is. The team we assembled and continue to grow consists of true experts in their disciplines. I constantly rely on them to ensure we are asking the right questions and making investments to advance our capabilities and position the nation for success. 
      Polzin delivers his acceptance speech.Photo courtesy of AIAA Q: What excites you most about the future of space exploration?
      Polzin: In my lifetime, we have never been closer to fully realizing the benefits of nuclear power and propulsion in space. We now have the potential to cross the threshold and open a new era where nuclear technologies will bring about truly transformational change in how we approach all aspects of space exploration.
      Before his current role, Polzin was the Space Systems Team lead in Marshall’s Advanced Concepts Office. He joined NASA in 2004 as a propulsion research engineer.
      Polzin has a doctorate and a master’s in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from Princeton University in New Jersey and a bachelor’s in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from Ohio State University in Columbus.
      He authored or co-authored over 140 publications, including a recently published monograph, and he holds six U.S. patents. He has also been an adjunct professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville for many years, teaching graduate-level courses in physics and engineering.
      Polzin’s other honors include the AIAA Sustained Service Award, the AIAA Greater Huntsville Section’s Martin Schilling Outstanding Service and Earl Pearce Professional of the Year, and multiple NASA Patent, Special Service, and Group Achievement awards. He is an associate fellow of AIAA and a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
      NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate funds the SNP Office.
      With nearly 30,000 individual members from 91 countries and 95 corporate members, AIAA is the world’s largest technical society dedicated to the global aerospace profession.
      Learn more about Space Nuclear Propulsion.
      Boyette, a Media Fusion employee, supports the Space Nuclear Propulsion Office and Marshall’s Office of Strategic Analysis & Communications.
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      NASA Announces Student Launch Winners
      NASA presented the 2024 Student Launch challenge award winners in a virtual award ceremony June 7. Awards were presented to students from colleges, universities, high schools, middle schools, and informal education groups who designed, built, and launched high-powered, amateur rockets and scientific payloads. In addition to the overall winners, other awards were presented for safety, vehicle design, social media presence, STEM engagement, and more. The Student Launch challenge was held May 3 in Toney, Alabama, near the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Read more about Student Launch.
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      Meet the Simunauts: Ohio State Students to Test Space Food Solutions for NASA
      By Savannah Bullard
      NASA’s Deep Space Food Challenge kicks off its final eight-week demonstration this month, and a new crew is running the show. 
      NASA’s partner for the Deep Space Food Challenge, the Methuselah Foundation, has teamed up with Ohio State University in Columbus to facilitate the challenge’s third and final phase. The university is employing current and former students to serve on a “Simunaut” crew to maintain and operate the food production technologies during the demonstration period.  
      Ohio State University has hired four student “Simunauts” (simulated analog astronauts) to test NASA’s Deep Space Food Challenge technologies at the Wilbur A. Gould Food Industries Center’s Food Processing Pilot Plant this summer. From left, Charlie Frick, Fuanyi Fobellah, Sakura Sugiyama, and Mehr Un Nisa.Ohio State University The Deep Space Food Challenge creates novel food production systems that offer safe, nutritious, and delicious food for long-duration human exploration missions while conscious of waste, resources, and labor. The challenge could also benefit humanity by helping address Earth’s food scarcity problems. In this challenge phase, NASA will offer a $1.5 million prize purse to winning U.S. teams after demonstrations are completed during an awards ceremony on August 16. 
      “It’s easy for a team with intimate knowledge of their food systems to operate them. This will not be the case for astronauts who potentially use these solutions on deep-space missions,” said Angela Herblet, Program Analyst for NASA’s Centennial Challenges and Challenge Manager for the Deep Space Food Challenge. “Incorporating the Simunauts will add a unique flair that will test the acceptability and ease of use of these systems.” 
      The demonstrations will occur inside Ohio State’s Wilbur A. Gould Food Industries Center’s Food Processing Pilot Plant until July 31. Meet the students behind the demonstrations: 
      Fuanyi Fobellah
      Fuanyi Fobellah was a picky eater as a child. But, when he began wrestling in school, food became an essential part of his life. Now a senior majoring in food business management at Ohio State, Fobellah combines his love for space exploration with his food, nutrition, business, and innovation knowledge.
      Q: How does the work you’re doing this summer fit into the overall NASA mission, and how do your contributions fit into that mission?
      A: Food can easily become an overlooked aspect of space travel, but humans can only live and travel to different planets with sustainable food systems. That’s why a challenge focused on developing food systems for space travel is so vital to NASA’s mission.
      Sakura Sugiyama
      Sakura Sugiyama’s childhood hobbies were cooking and baking, and with two scientists as parents, the Deep Space Food Challenge piqued the interest of the recent Ohio State graduate. Sugiyama obtained her bachelor’s degree from Ohio State’s Department of Food Science and Technology and plans to work in research and development in the food industry. 
      Q: Why do you think this work is important for the future of civilization? 
      A: Food variety, sustainability, energy efficiency – all of those are issues we face here on Earth due to climate change, increasing populations, and food insecurity. I hope that solving those issues in space will also help solve those problems on Earth.
      Charlie Frick
      A fifth-year student studying animal sciences, Charlie Frick, found his passion while growing up on his family’s farm. While finishing his degree, he hopes the Deep Space Food Challenge will allow him to use his agriculture and animal science knowledge to support space technology, nutrition, and food regeneration.
      Q: Now that you’re familiar with NASA’s public prize competitions, how do you think they benefit the future of human space exploration? 
      A: These challenges help a lot because sometimes you need that third person who doesn’t have that background but can come up with something to help. These challenges are critical in helping bring about technologies that otherwise would never exist.
      Mehir Un Nisa
      Mehir Un Nisa is a graduate student in Ohio State’s Department of Food Science and Technology. As a kid who dreamed about working at NASA, Un Nisa is using her expertise in food science to make that dream a reality and get a foot in the door of the agency’s food and nutrition programs. 
      Q: How does it feel to work alongside NASA on a project like this? 
      A: Working with NASA empowers me as a researcher, and it makes me feel good that food science has a part in that big name. It’s a dream come true for me. 
      The Deep Space Food Challenge, a NASA Centennial Challenge, is a coordinated effort between NASA and CSA (Canadian Space Agency). Subject matter experts at Johnson Space Center and Kennedy Space Center support the competition. NASA’s Centennial Challenges are part of the Prizes, Challenges, and Crowdsourcing program within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and managed at Marshall Space Flight Center. The Methuselah Foundation, in partnership with NASA, oversees the United States and international competitors.
      Learn more about the Deep Space Food Challenge. 
      Bullard, an Aeyon/MTS employee, supports the Marshall Office of Communications.
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      NASA, Global Astronomers Await Rare Nova Explosion
      By Rick Smith
      Around the world this summer, professional and amateur astronomers alike will be fixed on one small constellation deep in the night sky. But it’s not the seven stars of Corona Borealis, the “Northern Crown,” that have sparked such fascination.
      It’s a dark spot among them where an impending nova event – so bright it will be visible on Earth with the naked eye – is poised to occur.
      A red giant star and white dwarf orbit each other in this animation of a nova similar to T Coronae Borealis. The red giant is a large sphere in shades of red, orange, and white, with the side facing the white dwarf the lightest shades. The white dwarf is hidden in a bright glow of white and yellows, which represent an accretion disk around the star. A stream of material, shown as a diffuse cloud of red, flows from the red giant to the white dwarf. When the red giant moves behind the white dwarf, a nova explosion on the white dwarf ignites, creating a ball of ejected nova material shown in pale orange. After the fog of material clears, a small white spot remains, indicating that the white dwarf has survived the explosion.NASA “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event that will create a lot of new astronomers out there, giving young people a cosmic event they can observe for themselves, ask their own questions, and collect their own data,” said Dr. Rebekah Hounsell, an assistant research scientist specializing in nova events at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “It’ll fuel the next generation of scientists.”
      T Coronae Borealis, dubbed the “Blaze Star” and known to astronomers simply as “T CrB,” is a binary system nestled in the Northern Crown some 3,000 light-years from Earth. The system is comprised of a white dwarf – an Earth-sized remnant of a dead star with a mass comparable to that of our Sun – and an ancient red giant slowly being stripped of hydrogen by the relentless gravitational pull of its hungry neighbor.
      The hydrogen from the red giant accretes on the surface of the white dwarf, causing a buildup of pressure and heat. Eventually, it triggers a thermonuclear explosion big enough to blast away that accreted material. For T CrB, that event appears to reoccur, on average, every 80 years.
      Don’t confuse a nova with a supernova, a final, titanic explosion that destroys some dying stars, Hounsell said. In a nova event, the dwarf star remains intact, sending the accumulated material hurtling into space in a blinding flash. The cycle typically repeats itself over time, a process which can carry on for tens or hundreds of thousands of years.
      “There are a few recurrent novae with very short cycles, but typically, we don’t often see a repeated outburst in a human lifetime, and rarely one so relatively close to our own system,” Hounsell said. “It’s incredibly exciting to have this front-row seat.”
      The first recorded sighting of the T CrB nova was more than 800 years ago, in autumn 1217, when a man named Burchard, abbot of Ursberg, Germany, noted his observance of “a faint star that for a time shone with great light.”
      The T CrB nova was last seen from Earth in 1946. Its behavior over the past decade appears strikingly similar to observed behavior in a similar timeframe leading up to the 1946 eruption. If the pattern continues, some researchers say, the nova event could occur by September 2024.
      What should stargazers look for? The Northern Crown is a horseshoe-shaped curve of stars west of the Hercules constellation, ideally spotted on clear nights. It can be identified by locating the two brightest stars in the Northern Hemisphere – Arcturus and Vega – and tracking a straight line from one to the other, which will lead skywatchers to Hercules and the Corona Borealis.
      A conceptual image of how to find Hercules and the “Northern Crown” in the night sky, created using planetarium software. Look up after sunset during summer months to find Hercules, then scan between Vega and Arcturus, where the distinct pattern of Corona Borealis may be identified.NASA The outburst will be brief. Once it erupts, it will be visible to the naked eye for a little less than a week – but Hounsell is confident it will be quite a sight to see.
      Dr. Elizabeth Hays, chief of Goddard’s Astroparticle Physics Laboratory, agreed. She said part of the fun in preparing to observe the event is seeing the enthusiasm among amateur stargazers, whose passion for extreme space phenomena has helped sustain a long and mutually rewarding partnership with NASA.
      “Citizen scientists and space enthusiasts are always looking for those strong, bright signals that identify nova events and other phenomena,” Hays said. “Using social media and email, they’ll send out instant alerts, and the flag goes up. We’re counting on that global community interaction again with T CrB.”
      Hays is the project scientist for NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, which has made gamma-ray observations from low Earth orbit since 2008. Fermi is poised to observe T CrB when the nova eruption is detected, along with other space-based missions including NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, IXPE (Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer), NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array), NICER (Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer), and the European Space Agency’s INTEGRAL (Extreme Universe Surveyor). Numerous ground-based radio telescopes and optical imagers, including the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array in Mexico, also will take part. Collectively, the various telescopes and instruments will capture data across the visible and non-visible light spectrum.
      “We’ll observe the nova event at its peak and through its decline, as the visible energy of the outburst fades,” Hounsell said. “But it’s equally critical to obtain data during the early rise to eruption – so the data collected by those avid citizen scientists on the lookout now for the nova will contribute dramatically to our findings.”
      For astrophysics researchers, that promises a rare opportunity to shed new light on the structure and dynamics of recurring stellar explosions like this one.
      “Typically, nova events are so faint and far away that it’s hard to clearly identify where the erupting energy is concentrated,” Hays said. “This one will be really close, with a lot of eyes on it, studying the various wavelengths and hopefully giving us data to start unlocking the structure and specific processes involved. We can’t wait to get the full picture of what’s going on.”
      Some of those eyes will be very new. Gamma-ray imagers didn’t exist the last time T CrB erupted in 1946, and IXPE’s polarization capability – which identifies the organization and alignment of electromagnetic waves to determine the structure and internal processes of high-energy phenomena – is also a brand-new tool in X-ray astronomy. Combining their data could offer unprecedented insight into the lifecycles of binary systems and the waning but powerful stellar processes that fuel them.
      Learn more about NASA astrophysics.
      Smith, an Aeyon/MTS employee, supports the Marshall Office of Communications.
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      ‘Super’ Star Cluster Shines in New Look from NASA’s Chandra
      Westerlund 1 is the biggest and closest “super” star cluster to Earth. New data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, in combination with other NASA telescopes, is helping astronomers delve deeper into this galactic factory where stars are vigorously being produced.
      This is the first data to be publicly released from a project called the Extended Westerlund 1 and 2 Open Clusters Survey, or EWOCS, led by astronomers from the Italian National Institute of Astrophysics in Palermo. As part of EWOCS, Chandra observed Westerlund 1 for about 12 days in total.
      An image of the Westerlund 1 star cluster and the surrounding region, as detected in X-ray and optical light. The black canvas of space is peppered with colored dots of light of various sizes, mostly in shades of red, green, blue, and white.X-ray: NASA/CXC/INAF/M. Guarcello et al.; Optical: NASA/ESA/STScI; Image Processing: NASA/CXC/SAO/L. Frattare Currently, only a handful of stars form in our galaxy each year, but in the past the situation was different. The Milky Way used to produce many more stars, likely hitting its peak of churning out dozens or hundreds of stars per year about 10 billion years ago and then gradually declining ever since. Astronomers think that most of this star formation took place in massive clusters of stars, known as “super star clusters,” like Westerlund 1. These are young clusters of stars that contain more than 10,000 times the mass of the Sun. Westerlund 1 is between about 3 million and 5 million years old.
      This new image shows the new deep Chandra data along with previously released data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. The X-rays detected by Chandra show young stars (mostly represented as white and pink) as well as diffuse heated gas throughout the cluster (colored pink, green, and blue, in order of increasing temperatures for the gas). Many of the stars picked up by Hubble appear as yellow and blue dots.
      Only a few super star clusters still exist in our galaxy, but they offer important clues about this earlier era when most of our galaxy’s stars formed. Westerlund 1 is the biggest of these remaining super star clusters in the Milky Way and contains a mass between 50,000 and 100,000 Suns. It is also the closest super star cluster to Earth at about 13,000 light-years.
      These qualities make Westerlund 1 an excellent target for studying the impact of a super star cluster’s environment on the formation process of stars and planets as well as the evolution of stars over a broad range of masses.
      This new deep Chandra dataset of Westerlund 1 has more than tripled the number of X-ray sources known in the cluster. Before the EWOCS project, Chandra had detected 1,721 sources in Westerlund 1. The EWOCS data found almost 6,000 X-ray sources, including fainter stars with lower masses than the Sun. This gives astronomers a new population to study.
      One revelation is that 1,075 stars detected by Chandra are squeezed into the middle of Westerlund 1 within four light-years of the cluster’s center. For a sense of how crowded this is, four light-years is about the distance between the Sun and the next closest star to Earth.
      The diffuse emission seen in the EWOCS data represents the first detection of a halo of hot gas surrounding the center of Westerlund 1, which astronomers think will be crucial in assessing the cluster’s formation and evolution, and giving a more precise estimate of its mass.
      A paper published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, led by Mario Guarcello from the Italian National Institute of Astrophysics in Palermo, discusses the survey and the first results. Follow-up papers will discuss more about the results, including detailed studies of the brightest X-ray sources. This future work will analyze other EWOCS observations, involving NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope and NICER (Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer).
      NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center manages the Chandra program. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Chandra X-ray Center controls science from Cambridge Massachusetts and flight operations from Burlington, Massachusetts.
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      NASA Awards Contract for Safety and Mission Assurance Services
      NASA has selected KBR Wyle Services LLC, of Fulton, Maryland, to provide safety and mission assurance services to the agency.
      The Safety and Mission Assurance, Audits, Assessments, and Analysis (SA3) Services contract is a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract with an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity provision and a maximum potential value of approximately $75.3 million. The three-year base performance period of this contract begins August 1, 2024, and is followed by a two-year option, which would end July 31, 2029.
      The SA3 contract will provide safety and mission assurance services to NASA Headquarters and other NASA centers, programs, projects, and activities through the NASA Safety Center. These services include, but aren’t limited to, audit/assessment/analysis support, safety assessments and hazard analysis, reliability and maintainability analysis, risk analysis and management, supply chain data management and analytics, software safety and assurance, training and outreach, quality engineering and assurance, and information systems support.
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      View the full article
    • By NASA
      Hurricane Idalia brought significant storm surge, heavy rains, and strong winds to Florida as a Category 3 hurricane in 2023. This image is from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer on NASA’s Terra satellite, acquired at 11:35 a.m. EDT on Aug. 29, 2023.Credits: NASA Earth Observatory NASA invites media to an event at the agency’s headquarters at 2 p.m. EDT Thursday, June 13, to learn about a new Disaster Response Coordination System that will provide communities and organizations around the world with access to science and data to aid disaster response.  
      The event will be held in NASA’s James E. Webb Auditorium at 300 E St. SW, Washington, and air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website. To attend the briefing in person, media should RSVP no later than 12 p.m. EDT June 13, to Liz Vlock at elizabeth.a.vlock@nasa.gov. NASA’s media accreditation policy is online.
      The briefing speakers include:
      NASA Administrator Bill Nelson NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy Nicky Fox, associate administrator, NASA Science Mission Directorate Karen St. Germain, division director, NASA Earth Sciences Division Jainey Bavishi, deputy administrator, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Erik Hooks, deputy administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency David Applegate, director, U.S. Geological Survey Dianna Darsney de Salcedo, assistant to the U.S. Agency for International Development administrator Clayton Turner, director, NASA Langley Research Center Shanna McClain, program manager, NASA Disasters Program Joshua Barnes, manager, NASA Disaster Response Coordination System Judith Mitrani-Reiser, senior scientist, National Institute of Standards and Technology The Disaster Response Coordination System will connect NASA’s Earth science data, technology, and expertise with disaster response organizations in the U.S. and internationally. The goal is to reduce disaster impacts to lives and livelihoods through timely, actionable, and accurate information.
      For more information about NASA’s Disasters program, visit: 
      https://disasters.nasa.gov/response
      -end-
      Liz Vlock
      Headquarters, Washington
      202-358-1600
      elizabeth.a.vlock@nasa.gov
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      Last Updated Jun 11, 2024 LocationNASA Headquarters Related Terms
      Natural Disasters Earth Observatory Earth Science Science & Research Science Mission Directorate View the full article
    • By NASA
      4 min read
      Hubble Finds Surprises Around a Star That Erupted 40 Years Ago
      This artist’s concept shows the nova system HM Sagittae (HM Sge), where a white dwarf star is pulling material from its red giant companion. This forms a blazing hot disk around the dwarf, which can unpredictably undergo a spontaneous thermonuclear explosion as the infall of hydrogen from the red giant grows denser and reaches a tipping point. These fireworks between companion stars are fascinating to astronomers by yielding insights into the physics and dynamics of stellar evolution in binary systems. NASA, ESA, Leah Hustak (STScI)
      Download this image

      Astronomers have used new data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the retired SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) as well as archival data from other missions to revisit one of the strangest binary star systems in our galaxy – 40 years after it burst onto the scene as a bright and long-lived nova. A nova is a star that suddenly increases its brightness tremendously and then fades away to its former obscurity, usually in a few months or years.
      Between April and September 1975, the binary system HM Sagittae (HM Sge) grew 250 times brighter. Even more unusual, it did not rapidly fade away as novae commonly do, but has maintained its luminosity for decades. Recently, observations show that the system has gotten hotter, but paradoxically faded a little.
      HM Sge is a particular kind of symbiotic star where a white dwarf and a bloated, dust-producing giant companion star are in an eccentric orbit around each other, and the white dwarf ingests gas flowing from the giant star. That gas forms a blazing hot disk around the white dwarf, which can unpredictably undergo a spontaneous thermonuclear explosion as the infall of hydrogen from the giant grows denser on the surface until it reaches a tipping point. These fireworks between companion stars fascinate astronomers by yielding insights into the physics and dynamics of stellar evolution in binary systems.
      When I first saw the new data, I went – ‘wow this is what Hubble UV spectroscopy can do!’ – I mean it’s spectacular, really spectacular.
      Ravi Sankrit
      Astronomer
      “In 1975 HM Sge went from being a nondescript star to something all astronomers in the field were looking at, and at some point that flurry of activity slowed down,” said Ravi Sankrit of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore. In 2021, Steven Goldman of STScI, Sankrit and collaborators used instruments on Hubble and SOFIA to see what had changed with HM Sge in the last 30 years at wavelengths of light from the infrared to the ultraviolet (UV).
      The 2021 ultraviolet data from Hubble showed a strong emission line of highly ionized magnesium that was not present in earlier published spectra from 1990. Its presence shows that the estimated temperature of the white dwarf and accretion disk increased from less than 400,000 degrees Fahrenheit in 1989 to greater than 450,000 degrees Fahrenheit now. The highly ionized magnesium line is one of many seen in the UV spectrum, which analyzed together will reveal the energetics of the system, and how it has changed in the last three decades.
      “When I first saw the new data,” Sankrit said, “I went – ‘wow this is what Hubble UV spectroscopy can do!’ – I mean it’s spectacular, really spectacular.”
      A Hubble Space Telescope image of the symbiotic star Mira HM Sge. Located 3,400 light-years away in the constellation Sagitta, it consists of a red giant and a white dwarf companion. The stars are too close together to be resolved by Hubble. Material bleeds off the red giant and falls onto the dwarf, making it extremely bright. This system first flared up as a nova in 1975. The red nebulosity is evidence of the stellar wind. The nebula is about one-quarter light-year across. NASA, ESA, Ravi Sankrit (STScI), Steven Goldman (STScI); Image Processing: Joseph DePasquale (STScI)
      Download this image

      With data from NASA’s flying telescope SOFIA, which retired in 2022, the team was able to detect the water, gas, and dust flowing in and around the system. Infrared spectral data shows that the giant star, which produces copious amounts of dust, returned to its normal behavior within only a couple years of the explosion, but also that it has dimmed in recent years, which is another puzzle to be explained.
      With SOFIA astronomers were able to see water moving at around 18 miles per second, which they suspect is the speed of the sizzling accretion disk around the white dwarf. The bridge of gas connecting the giant star to the white dwarf must presently span about 2 billion miles.
      The team has also been working with the AAVSO (American Association of Variable Star Observers), to collaborate with amateur astronomers from around the world who help keep telescopic eyes on HM Sge; their continued monitoring reveals changes that haven’t been seen since its outburst 40 years ago.
      “Symbiotic stars like HM Sge are rare in our galaxy, and witnessing a nova-like explosion is even rarer. This unique event is a treasure for astrophysicists spanning decades,” said Goldman.
      The initial results from the team’s research were published in the Astrophysical Journal, and Sankrit is presenting research focused on the UV spectroscopy at the 244th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Madison, Wisconsin.
      The Hubble Space Telescope has been operating for over three decades and continues to make ground-breaking discoveries that shape our fundamental understanding of the universe. Hubble is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope and mission operations. Lockheed Martin Space, based in Denver, Colorado, also supports mission operations at Goddard. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, conducts Hubble science operations for NASA.
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      Facebook logo @NASAHubble @NASAHubble Instagram logo @NASAHubble Media Contacts:
      Claire Andreoli
      NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD
      claire.andreoli@nasa.gov
      Ray Villard
      Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, MD
      Science Contacts:
      Ravi Sankrit
      Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, MD
      Steven Goldman
      Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, MD
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      Details
      Last Updated Jun 10, 2024 Editor Andrea Gianopoulos Location NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Related Terms
      Astrophysics Astrophysics Division Goddard Space Flight Center Hubble Space Telescope Missions Stars The Universe Keep Exploring Discover More Topics From NASA
      Hubble Space Telescope


      Since its 1990 launch, the Hubble Space Telescope has changed our fundamental understanding of the universe.


      Stars Stories



      Galaxies Stories



      Stars


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