Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2002 October 3
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.

V838 Mon: Mystery Star
Credit: Lisa Crause (Univ. Cape Town), Warrick Lawson (Australian Defence Force Academy)

Explanation: A leading candidate for the most mysterious star found in recent times is variable star V838 Monocerotis. At a distance of about 8,000 light-years, V838 Mon was discovered to be in outburst in January of this year. Initially thought to be a familiar type of classical nova, astronomers quickly realized that instead, V838 Mon may be a totally new addition to the astronomical zoo. Observations indicate that the erupting star transformed itself over a period of months from a small under-luminous star a little hotter than the Sun, to a highly-luminous, cool supergiant star undergoing rapid and complex brightness changes. The transformation defies the conventional understanding of stellar life cycles. A most notable feature of V838 Mon is the "expanding" nebula which now appears to surround it. Seen above in two separate images from the South African Astronomical Observatory's 1 meter telescope, the nebula is probably a light echo from shells of formerly unseen material lost by the star during its previous evolution. Light-years in diameter, the shells progressively reflect the light from V838 Mon's outbursts, providing an opportunity to look back at the history of this remarkable star's behaviour.

Tomorrow's picture: Facing NGC 6946

< | Archive | Index | Search | Calendar | Glossary | Education | About APOD | >

Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
& Michigan Tech. U.