Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

February 25, 1997

Star Wars in NGC 664
C. Hergenrother, Whipple Observatory, P. Garnavich, P.Berlind, R.Kirshner (CFA)

Explanation: Long ago in a galaxy far, far away, locked in their final desperate struggle against the force of gravity ... two stars exploded! Stellar explosions - Supernovae - are among the most powerful events in the Universe, estimated to release an equivalent energy of up to 1 million trillion trillion (1 followed by 30 zeros) megatons of TNT. After the explosion, an expanding supernova envelope is observed to brighten over a a period of days to a maximum light output which rivals that of an entire galaxy before fading from view over the following months. Triggered by the collapsing core of a massive star or the nuclear demise of a white dwarf supernovae occur in average spiral galaxies only about once every 25-100 years. But a recent observation of NGC 664, a spiral galaxy about 300 million light years distant, captured a rare and colorful performance - two supernovae from the same galaxy. In this monitoring exposure the two supernovae, one reddish yellow and one blue, form a close pair just below the image center (to the right of the galaxy nucleus). The color difference is due to temperature - blue is hotter.

Tomorrow's picture: Sungrazer

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