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This GIF shows the light echo growing like a ripple in water from 2014 through 2017.


NASA, ESA, J. DePasquale, and Z. Levay (STScI) Acknowledgment: Y. Yang (Texas A&M/Weizmann Institute of Science)

Space is full of visual wonders. The Hubble Space Telescope captured a fascinating phenomenon when it documented a rare “light echo” where the light from a supernova explosion bounced off a large dust cloud.  

The Space Telescope Science Institute released a look at the light echo Thursday on its Hubble website. A GIF combines images taken over the course of over two years after the star’s explosion. The institute likens the echo to “a ripple expanding on a pond.” 

“The light is bouncing off a giant dust cloud that extends 300 to 1,600 light-years from the supernova and is being reflected toward Earth,” says the institute. It also notes that astronomers have only spotted 15 supernova light echoes outside the Milky Way, making this a rare sight.

Researchers first spotted the supernova, named SN 2014J, in 2014 in the Messier 82 galaxy. The galaxy is located 11.4 million light-years away, which is relatively close to us in space terms.  M82 is nicknamed the Cigar Galaxy thanks to its shape as seen from our vantage point.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a joint project from NASA and the European Space Agency.

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