The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has released a new image of the cosmos, which is not exactly uncommon. However, the new image of the Vela supernova remnant is special. It was captured with one of the largest telescopes in the world and features an incredible level of detail. The ESO has made the stunning image available in various resolutions, including a 544-megapixel original file.
Until about 11,000 years ago, there was no Vela supernova remnant. This structure is the product of a type II supernova, which marked the end of a massive star. That star is now an ultra-dense neutron star — technically a pulsar as it’s rotating more than 11 times per second. It’s the brightest pulsar (in radio frequencies) in the sky, and has one of the fastest rotations known. The image from the ESO doesn’t focus on the pulsar itself but rather on the massive cloud of energized gas that makes up the supernova remnant.
The Vela supernova remnant is only 800 light years away, which allows the VLT to get a good look at the structure. When the progenitor star ran out of nuclear fuel, the resulting collapse launched the outer layers away with a massive explosion. The shock wave compresses gas into wispy filaments. The energy from the supernova heats the gas, making it glow brightly in the image.
The image comes to us by way of the ESO’s VLT Survey Telescope, which is a 2.6-meter telescope in the arid Atacama Desert in Chile. It relies on a single focal plane instrument known as the OmegaCAM, which has a resolution of 268 megapixels. It can capture images with a variety of color filters. In the case of the Vela supernova remnant, four were used: red, blue, green, and magenta.
You might wonder how you get from a 268-megapixel sensor to a 544-megapixel processed image. The answer is that what you see above is a mosaic composed of multiple frames. The ESO provided a neat graphic that explains the process. The team has to merge frames, balance the background, assign colors to each filter, and finally produce the final full-color version.
The ESO has downloads of the image in various wallpaper resolutions, but if you’ve got a lot of pixels to cover or just want to explore the Vela supernova remnant in greater detail, there are publication-ready JPEGs, as well as uncompressed TIFF files. The original 544-megapixel version clocks in at 1.1GB.