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A Dramatic View of the Light Echo from Star V838 Mon

This image, obtained in September 2006 with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, shows the light echo surrounding the star V838 Monocerotis. V838 Mon, located 20,000 light-years away from Earth, experienced a sudden outburst in early 2002, temporarily brightening to 600,000 times our Sun's luminosity.

The light echo arises as the flash of light propagates into surrounding interstellar dust, and then travels to the Earth. Due to this detour, the echo light arrives at the Earth years after light from the outburst itself.

Because the surface of constant light travel-time delay is so thin, a light echo provides a natural "CAT scan" that results in a startling level of detail, especially at Hubble resolution. Particularly noticeable in this "thin section" through the interstellar dust are numerous whorls and eddies, possibly produced by effects of interstellar magnetic fields.

This color-composite was created from exposures using red and near-infrared filters, obtained with Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys. It is the latest in a series of HST observations of V838 Mon obtained since 2002.

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Acknowledgment: H. Bond (Space Telescope Science Institute)