Hubble watches super star create holiday light show

December 17, 2013

This festive NASA Hubble Space Telescope image resembles a holiday wreath made of sparkling lights. The bright southern hemisphere star RS Puppis, at the center of the image, is swaddled in a gossamer cocoon of reflective dust illuminated by the glittering star. The super star is ten times more massive than our sun and 200 times larger.

RS Puppis rhythmically brightens and dims over a six-week cycle. It is one of the most luminous in the class of so-called Cepheid variable stars. Its average intrinsic brightness is 15,000 times greater than our sun's luminosity.

The nebula flickers in brightness as pulses of light from the Cepheid propagate outwards. Hubble took a series of photos of light flashes rippling across the nebula in a phenomenon known as a "light echo." Even though light travels through space fast enough to span the gap between Earth and the moon in a little over a second, the nebula is so large that reflected light can actually be photographed traversing the nebula.

By observing the fluctuation of light in RS Puppis itself, as well as recording the faint reflections of light pulses moving across the nebula, astronomers are able to measure these light echoes and pin down a very accurate distance. The distance to RS Puppis has been narrowed down to 6,500 light-years (with a margin of error of only one percent).
-end-
The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Md., conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington, D.C.

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Related Nebula Articles from Brightsurf:

Stars and skulls: New ESO image reveals eerie nebula
This ethereal remnant of a long dead star, nestled in the belly of The Whale, bears an uneasy resemblance to a skull floating through space.

Scientists detect crab nebula using innovative gamma-ray telescope
The prototype Schwarzschild-Couder Telescope (SCT)--developed by scientists at the Columbia University in collaboration with researchers from other institutions--is part of an international effort, known as the Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA), which aims to construct the world's largest and most powerful gamma-ray observatory, with more than 100 similar telescopes in the northern and southern hemispheres.

On the origin of massive stars
This scene of stellar creation, captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, sits near the outskirts of the famous Tarantula Nebula.

Astrophysicists link brightening of pulsar wind nebula to pulsar spin-down rate transition
Astrophysicists have discovered that the pulsar wind nebula (PWN) surrounding the famous pulsar B0540-69 brightened gradually after the pulsar experienced a sudden spin-down rate transition (SRT).

Hubble celebrates its 29th birthday with unrivaled view of the Southern Crab Nebula
This incredible image of the hourglass-shaped Southern Crab Nebula was taken to mark the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope's 29th anniversary in space.

Lifting the veil on star formation in the Orion Nebula
Writing in 'Nature', an international research team including astronomers from Cologne describe their discovery that stellar wind from a newborn star in the Orion Nebula is preventing more stars from forming nearby.

Hubble reveals cosmic Bat Shadow in the Serpent's Tail
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured part of the wondrous Serpens Nebula, lit up by the star HBC 672.

Ultra-close stars discovered inside a planetary nebula
An international team of astronomers have discovered two stars in a binary pair that complete an orbit around each other in a little over three hours, residing in the planetary nebula M3-1.

Stars vs. dust in the Carina Nebula
The Carina Nebula, one of the largest and brightest nebulae in the night sky, has been beautifully imaged by ESO's VISTA telescope at the Paranal Observatory in Chile.

Discovery of a structurally 'inside-out' planetary nebula
The Instituto de AstrofĂ­sica de AndalucĂ­a (IAA-CSIC) in Spain, the Laboratory for Space Research (LSR) of the University of Hong Kong (HKU), and an International team comprising scientists from Argentina, Mexico and Germany have discovered the unusual evolution of the central star of a planetary nebula in our Milky Way.

Read More: Nebula News and Nebula Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.