Via More Junkmail From Bob:
It sounds like the beginning of a science fiction story: "In January 2002, a dull star in an obscure constellation suddenly became 600,000 times more luminous than our Sun, temporarily making it the brightest star in our Milky Way galaxy."
But it really happened. A star blew up and lit up the sky. It became 600,000 times brighter than the sun, the brightest object in the Milky Way galaxy. At that intensity, the light illuminated the dust surrounding the star. The light reflected off the dust that happened to be sitting around in the area.
The dust appeared weeks and months later than the explosion did, because it takes the light some extra time to go off in another direction and then bounce off some dust toward earth. Because of this time delay, we see successive layers of dust farther and farther from the star as time progresses.
The last time this happened was in 1936. Here are some Hubble photos of the event, over a few months. It's pretty amazing.
I've only got one photo link here; there are five more in Bob's Junkmail.
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