Hubble Films Supernova That Looks Like an Exploding Death Star

Friday, 10 November 2017 - 11:00AM
Space Imagery
Friday, 10 November 2017 - 11:00AM
Hubble Films Supernova That Looks Like an Exploding Death Star
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Image credit: NASA
Sometimes real life really is stranger than fiction. The Hubble Telescope just filmed a rare supernova light echo that looks eerily like an exploding Death Star. 

When George Lucas' Special Edition of the original Star Wars movie hit theaters in 1997, fans noticed a change to the explosion of the Death Star at the film's climax (spoilers for a 40-year-old movie literally everyone has seen).

In addition to the original big, round explosion, the movie also featured a ring of energy bursting forth from the center of the planet. Known as the Praxis Effect, this totally non-scientific visual image for an explosion is common in plenty of science fiction boom moments, having first originated in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

In addition to appearing in A New Hope, it also shows up in the Special Edition of Return of the Jedi, as apparently there's something in the design of the Death Stars that makes them pop unevenly.

The effect is completely made up, and isn't based on any solid scientific theory whatsoever. There's no logical reason for a big space thing to blow up with a large ring of fire bursting from its center in a single direction.

That said, new footage from the Hubble Space Telescope of a supernova in action does look awfully similar.

The video is of SN 2014J, a supernova that took place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away—in a place named the Cigar Galaxy, of all things. As light from the exploding star has finally reached us, the ease with which it can be spotted has made it a popular site of observation for amateur astronomers.

One such amateur, an undergraduate student at the University of London, used the campus observatory to spot this wonderful event, which appears to be a wave of light energy bursting forth from the supernova in a ring.

It's important to note that in reality, this probably isn't actually a ring of light - that's just how it appears from our vantage point, and up close, the ripple would have been seen as a sphere of light, bursting forth in many directions at once as the energy ricocheted off dust clouds surrounding the supernova.

That said, this event can teach us a lot about how light behaves within one of these massive exploding stars. It's one of 15 "light echoes" that have been recorded throughout the cosmos, so it's clear that this kind of behavior isn't altogether uncommon, even if it is very difficult to capture on camera.

It looks as if George Lucas might have been onto something in adding the Praxis Effect to his exploding Death Stars after all. While supernova's probably don't send out a solid two dimensional right of light as part of their explosions, their light certainly does bounce around in the clouds a lot after release, and this energy does appear to ripple like water droplets on a lake.

Whether or not this supernova was caused by an errant proton torpedo remains to be determined.
Space Imagery
Supernova Light Echo Looks Just Like an Exploding Death Star