Skip to main content

What the Heck Is This?

Bad hair day? The stuffing from your couch? Something from a Jacques Cousteau film?

None of the above. This is a really, really strange-looking thing when you look only at this close-up portion. In fact, it's a really, really strange-looking thing even when you see the full picture.

Just one very unhelpful hint today: The name of this is as strange as the look. Read on to find out what it is and see the cosmic blue highlights …

It's what astronomers sometimes call a zombie star. More precisely, it's an explosive remnant of a dead white dwarf star. So the star dies, gets real quiescent, then explodes as if out of nowhere and billows outward, pushing a shockwave in front.

The technical name is a Type Ia supernova. This one is called Tycho's supernova remnant, named for the astronomer who Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, who in 1572 saw the bright light from its explosion. It was so bright it was visible in the day time with the naked eye — only Venus, among all planets and stars in our sky these days, gets that bright.

Tycho's supernova remnant, Tycho for short, was first seen from Earth in 1572 when, as an exploding star, it was so bright it was visible during the day. (Image credit: NASA/CXC/Chinese Academy of Sciences/F. Lu et al )

Tycho, as it's often referred to, is within our Milky Way galaxy, about 13,000 light-years from Earth. Other pictures of Tycho's supernova show it in different colors (taken in different wavelengths of light), but they all reveal the same odd look of a bushy head of hair. Here's one more.

Got a strange or interesting photo related to science, nature or technology? What the Heck, send it to me, and maybe I'll use it.

Robert Roy Britt
Rob was a writer and editor at starting in 1999. He served as managing editor of Live Science at its launch in 2004. He is now Chief Content Officer overseeing media properties for the sites’ parent company, Purch. Prior to joining the company, Rob was an editor at The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, and in 1998 he was founder and editor of the science news website ExploreZone. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.