The Vela Supernova Remnant

Distance: 800 Light Years

Constellation: vela

text copyright Robert Gendler 2008


Approximately 11,000 to 12,000 years ago a massive star exploded in the southern constellation of Vela. The matter ejected by the supernova scattered the contents of the star into the surrounding interstellar medium creating shock fronts of multimillion degree gas and high energy particles. The heated matter produces brilliant visible light as well as radio and x-ray emission which will continue for thousands of years until the entire remnant of the dying star completely dissipates into space. Supernovas enrich the surrounding interstellar medium with heavier elements like carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, silicon, sulfur, and iron which can only be created by the intense heat within the nuclear furnaces of stars. Supernovas play a significant role in the dynamics and ecology of galaxies as the expanding shock fronts trigger the collapse of nearby molecular clouds which then leads to the birth of new generations of stars. Our sun contains telltale heavier elements which allude to its origin from an ancient supernova some 5 billion years ago. Supernovas are essential to the establishment of life as several of the critical heavier elements found within living organisms can only be formed or disbursed by the violent destruction of massive stars.


The Vela Pulsar (PSR B0833-45 or PSR J0835-4510) a rapidly rotating neutron star was discovered by astronomers in 1968 and was direct observational proof that supernovas form pulsars. It has a period of 89 ms.