The Unicorn’s Heart


V838 Monocerotis Composite
A composite image of V838 Mon

In 2002, a previously unknown star in the constellation Monoceros, The Unicorn, briefly became the brightest star in our galaxy.  Although great debate rages about the reasons for V838 Mon’s flareup, there is general consensus that images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in the months and years afterward are some of the most beautiful and dramatic ever taken.  A common mistake when viewing the series of images is to assume that they portray a single shell of material expanding outward from some vast explosion, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.  The brief flash of light is sweeping outward from the star, lighting up – a few at a time- a series of shells of gas and dust surrounding V838 Mon that it created during previous episodes.  As far as I know, my composite image is the first and only attempt anywhere to portray what these Russian-doll shells might look like together, illuminated by the dim, steady light of the star between it’s infrequent outbursts.  This is not a scientific-quality composition, but I think it captures the essence of the Unicorn’s Heart slowly beating.

2 Replies to “The Unicorn’s Heart”

  1. I’m so glad you did this! So many people miss the beauty in what really happened in those series of photos. Sure, an explosion is neat… but a Light Echo is something we can only see in such vast astronomical scales and is amazing!

    I thought to make a composite to demonstrate what is really happening. Glad to see someone else gets it.

  2. Thanks! I had a lot of fun making the image and the result looks good, although there’s always room for improvement. Mine was a composite of 8 imagees. Curiously, just two were blended together in the only other image I’ve found on the internet that was produced in a similar manner to my own, though theirs was done poorly, they being the European Space Agency….

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