sky history

Just 670 years ago, this supernova burst into the night sky

A spectacular explosion became visible on Earth during the Middle Ages.

X-ray: NASA/CXC/GSFC/B. J. Williams et al.; Optical: NASA/ESA/STScI

NASA/CXC/D. Berry; NASA/STSci/Hubble; ESA/M. Kornmesser

When stars die, some explode into supernovas and leave behind shimmering remnants — many of which we’ve observed via telescope.

Supernova remnants often conceal the finer details of their origins within clouds of cosmic dust.

It’s not easy to tell how long ago a supernova explosion began, but sometimes telescope records can illuminate the past.

NASA/CXC/D. Berry; NASA/STSci/Hubble; ESA/M. Kornmesser

ESA/NASA/Hubble

Researchers sifting through telescope data recently pinpointed the age of a relatively young remnant located in our neighboring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud.

ESA/NASA/Hubble

Their report was published last month in The Astrophysical Journal.

This week, NASA released a stunning new image of the remnant, called SNR 0519, created using visible light and X-ray data.

Visible light observations from the Hubble Space Telescope and X-ray data from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory were combined to create a breathtaking composite.

NASA/CXC/D. Berry; NASA/STSci/Hubble; ESA/M. Kornmesser

Here’s the new image of SNR 0519.

X-ray: NASA/CXC/GSFC/B. J. Williams et al.; Optical: NASA/ESA/STScI

Comparatively, here’s an image of the remnant imaged in 2015, also by Hubble and Chandra.

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Rutgers/J.Hughes; Optical: NASA/STScI

Light from SNR 0519 most likely reached Earth about 670 years ago — give or take seven decades, according to researchers.

X-ray: NASA/CXC/GSFC/B. J. Williams et al.; Optical: NASA/ESA/STScI

ilbusca/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images

The remnant would first have appeared in Earth’s skies during the 14th or 15th century.

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Rutgers/J.Hughes; Optical: NASA/STScI

Researchers were able to narrow down a specific date range by comparing telescope images of SNR 0519 from the past decade.

They measured how quickly blast materials emanated from the remnant’s center, where the explosion happened centuries ago.

NASA/CXC/D. Berry; NASA/STSci/Hubble; ESA/M. Kornmesser

As for what caused the powerful explosion: SNR 0519 burst apart after absorbing matter from a nearby star, or during a powerful collision.

The 670-year estimate is consistent with previous findings — and a further study of Hubble data could help narrow that date down even more in the future.

X-ray: NASA/CXC/GSFC/B. J. Williams et al.; Optical: NASA/ESA/STScI