The spiral galaxy NGC 6946 (shown in false color) lies at a distance of 17 million light years
Click on image for full size
Two Worlds Collide
News story originally written on July 20, 1997
Astronomers spotted an extremely bright object at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona. It was seen again in the x-ray portion of the spectrum with the ROSAT X-ray satellite. It was bright like a young supernova, but possessed the speed and the elemental make-up of an older supernova. Astronomers remained confused about the identity of the object until they turned to the Hubble Space Telescope.
Using the Hubble's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, astronomers were able to identify two separate objects very close to each other. Hubble imaging showed two supernovae crashing into each other.
When a massive star explodes, gas and debris are thrown off at speeds up to 22 million miles per hour, producing a shock wave that compresses the gas into a dense shell of material. It was the two shells of the supernovae crashing into each other that was producing such a dramatic light display for astronomers.
William P. Blair, a John Hopkins University astrophysicist, is leading the team of scientists who are studying the supernovae in galaxy NGC 6946. This spiral galaxy is located 17 million light years away and can be viewed in the northern constellation Cepheus.
One can feel Blair's excitement for this unique viewing opportunity as he stated, "It's the first time that we've identified one of these
interactions right when the shells are in the process of slamming
into each other. The reason this object is so bright is that we caught it at a very specific time in its evolution. And Hubble's resolution is what allowed us to see it."
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
Learn about Earth and space science, and have fun while doing it! The games
section of our online store
includes a climate change card game
and the Traveling Nitrogen game
You might also be interested in:
It was another exciting and frustrating year for the space science program. It seemed that every step forward led to one backwards. Either way, NASA led the way to a great century of discovery. Unfortunately,...more
The Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off from Kennedy Space Center at 2:19 p.m. EST, October 29th. The sky was clear and the weather was great as Discovery took 8 1/2 minutes to reach orbit for the Unitied...more
A moon was discovered orbiting the asteroid, Eugenia. This is only the second time in history that a satellite has been seen circling an asteroid. A special mirror allowed scientists to find the moon...more
Will Russia ever put the service module for the International Space Station in space? NASA officials are demanding an answer from the Russian government. The necessary service module is currently waiting...more
During a period of about two days in early May, 1998, the ACE spacecraft was immersed in plasma associated with a coronal mass ejection (CME). The SWICS instrument on ACE, which determines unambiguously...more
J.S. Maini of the Canadian Forest Service has referred to forests as the "heart and lungs of the world." Forests reduce soil erosion, maintain water quality, contribute to atmospheric humidity and cloud...more
In late April through mid-May 2002, all five naked-eye planets are visible simultaneously in the night sky! This is includes Mercury which is generally very hard to see because of its proximity to the...more