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National Geographic Magazine Exploring Space
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Photo: Star Bright

Star Bright

In January 2002 a star called V838 Monocerotis, until then an unremarkable pinpoint 20,000 light-years away, suddenly became 600,000 times brighter than our sun. After astronomers reported the star’s brightening, operators turned the Hubble Space Telescope toward it and made a series of exposures in 2002 on May 20, September 2, October 28, and December 17 (above). Like a flash of lightning behind earthly clouds, the star’s light illuminated vast realms of surrounding dust that it may have ejected in previous outbursts. As its waves of light crashed against more distant shoals of debris, a “light echo” formed that should be visible for the rest of this decade.

Image by Howard E. Bond and NASA/STSCI
From Exploring Space: The Universe in Pictures, 2004

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