Have you ever seen a lightning storm in space? It’s not something we often think about, but it’s quite something, and quite beautiful and frightening at the same time.
An ornate stellar interaction in the skies above us has touched off a massive thermonuclear explosions of cataclysmic scale in deep space. But what does that mean?
The gargantuan shockwaves that have toppled and rippled through the galaxy are visible to us as an amazing light show that was observed by the NASA Chandra X-Ray Observatory.
NASA’s newest space telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, allows scientists from around the world to obtain unprecedented X-ray images and spectra of violent, high-temperature events and objects to help us better understand the structure and evolution of our universe.
While we’re waiting for the James Webb Telescope to pass all of the diagnostics and fire up once it’s in final position there’s still plenty out there for Chandra and the Hubble Space Telescope to check out in the meantime… like what appears to be a lightning storm in space.
This particular and stunning image shared by NASA scientists is of a white dwarf and a very variable red giant known as R Aquarii.
“As they orbit one another, the white dwarf pulls material from the red giant onto its surface. Once enough of this material accumulates, it triggers an explosion. NASA used imagery from the Hubble Space Telescope (red and blue colors) along with X-ray data collected from the Chandra X-ray Observatory (purple color) to produce the photo above. The picture illustrates how a jet from the white dwarf is striking material surrounding it and producing shock waves, much like sonic booms from supersonic planes.”
The pair are some 710 lightyears from the Earth, the larger is a cool red giant and the smaller is an ultra-dense white dwarf star both spinning around a common barycenter between them. Stellar matter from the red giant is pulled by the white dwarf’s greater gravitation pull out of its envelope and onto the surface of the smaller denser star. This created an interplay of massive thermonuclear explosions as the red giant’s cooler matter is condensed and reignited as it falls into the white dwarf.
The initial apocalyptic blast would’ve lit up the skies over the Earth in the early 1700s, providing a luminous backdrop to the early colonization of North America. The R Aquarii pair was originally discovered by Karl Ludwig Hardin over a century later while searching for a planet between Mars and Jupiter. He didn’t find what he was looking for, but did discover the asteroid Juno, and four variable stars, two of which gave us this light show.
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