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The wispy fragments of an exploded binary star

The Hubble Space Telescope has captured the remnants of a supernova several thousand years ago.

ESA/Hubble & NASA, Y. Chu

When some stars die, they die gloriously, exploding in a dazzling supernova and leaving behind glowing gas and dust to mark its passing.

This is what happened in the case of DEM L71, the remnant of the explosion of a white dwarf, located some 160,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, seen in a new photograph captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.

DEM L71's demise was a little complicated. It was what is known as a binary star, whereby two stars are close enough to be locked in a mutual orbit around each other. The very hot white dwarf in these pairings is extremely dense, with mass comparable to that of the sun in a volume comparable to that of Earth. These white dwarfs can cannibalise their companion stars, tearing away matter to the point where they become unstable and explode in a supernova.

This is called a Type Ia supernova, and it ejects a superheated explosion cloud around it, pushing away the interstellar gas in its immediate vicinity, and eventually forming the wisps of material seen in the image above. DEM L71 is one of the best examples in our skies of the aftermath of this type of stellar explosion.