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Watch: Star Explodes 20,000 Light-Years From Earth

| by Paul Brown

A video hosted by Gizmodo shows a gorgeous time-lapse video of a star exploding over a four-year period. The star, V838 Monocerotis, existed 20,000 light-years from Earth before meeting its violent (yet beautiful) demise.

What makes this story so strange, however, is that scientists do not understand why the star exploded. Initially, scientists assumed it was a nova explosion. These are rather common occurrences, and it would not have been surprising if V838 Monocerotis’ brutal end came in the form of such an explosion.

In actual fact, this was not the case, and scientists are completely confounded as to why the star exploded in the manner that it did.

As a described by Hubble’s website, “A typical nova is a normal star that dumps hydrogen onto a compact white-dwarf companion star. The hydrogen piles up until it spontaneously explodes by nuclear fusion -- like a titanic hydrogen bomb. This exposes a searing stellar core, which has a temperature of hundreds of thousands of degrees Fahrenheit.”

The article goes on to compare a typical nova exposition to the mysterious, violent death of V838 Monocerotis, “By contrast, V838 Monocerotis did not expel its outer layers. Instead, it grew enormously in size. Its surface temperature dropped to temperatures that were not much hotter than a light bulb. This behavior of ballooning to an immense size, but not losing its outer layers, is very unusual and completely unlike an ordinary nova explosion.”

The result, as can be seen in this video, is completely stunning. The starburst, which occurred over a four-year period, created an overwhelming light echo among the interstellar dust surrounding the star.

As defined by Hubble’s website, a light echo is not so different from a sound echo. It is created when “light from a stellar explosion (echoes) off dust surrounding the star.”

While this explosion remains a mystery for now, scientists are continuing to research the circumstances surrounding the explosion and will attempt to provide a suitable explanation for these confounding events.