“The unusual variable star V838 Monecerotis (V838 Mon) continues to puzzle astronomers. This previously inconspicuous star underwent an outburst early in 2002, during which it temporarily increased in brightness to become 600,000 times more luminous than our sun. Light from this is illuminating the interstellar dust surrounding the star, producing the most spectacular ‘light echo’ in the history of astronomy.
“As light from the eruption propagates outward into the dust, it is scattered by the dust and travels to Earth. The scattered light has travelled an extra distance in comparison to light that reaches the earth directly from the stellar outburst. Such a light echo is the optical analogue of the sound echo produced when an Alpine yodel is reflected from the surrounding moutainsides.
“The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has been observing the V838 Mon light echo since 2002. Each new observation of the light echo reveals a new and unique ‘thin-section’ through the interstellar dust around the star.
“This video morphs images of the light echo from the Hubble taken at multiple times between 2002 and 2006. The numerous whorls and eddies in the interstellar dust are particularly noticeable. Possibly they have been produced by the effects of magnetic fields in the space between the stars.”
Shirlene Maria: “In January 2002, astronomers discovered a massive explosion coming from V838 Monocerotis. They initially thought they were witnessing a supernova, but after the initial flash of light began to dim (as expected), it began to brighten again in infrared wavelengths at the beginning of March. After that brightening faded, another one happened in April. While astronomers were certain they weren’t witnessing a supernova, they weren’t quite sure what it actually was.”