RCW 86 Supernova: NASA Telescopes Unravel 2,000-Year-Old Mystery (PICTURE)

10/24/2011 04:20 pm ET | Updated Dec 24, 2011

(By MARCIA DUNN, AP/THE HUFFINGTON POST) CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Astronomers finally know why the first documented supernova was super-sized.

The exploded star was observed by the ancient Chinese in the year 185, and visible for eight months. It was later found to be a bigger-than-expected supernova remnant, 8,000 light years away. Each light year is about 6 trillion miles.

New observations in the infrared show the explosion took place in a cavity in space. The cavity allowed the stellar shrapnel to shoot faster and farther out into the universe.

The star – similar to our sun – died peacefully and turned into a dense white dwarf. It sucked up material from another star, and then exploded in a supernova.

NASA announced the findings Monday. Four space telescopes were used in the study.

Take a look at the composite image, based on data from four telescopes, released by NASA on October 24.


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