Explore a Supernova With Virtual Reality

A group of researchers developed a way to experience a distant supernova from the comfort of your own home.

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NASA/CXC/SAO

11,000 light-years away from the Earth is a jewel-like remnant of one of the most violent explosions the universe has ever produced. 400 years ago, a giant star more than a dozen times the size of our own sun exploded in a violent supernova, scattering its material across the cosmos.

The supernova is known as Cassiopeia A, SN 1604, or Kepler’s Supernova, depending on who you ask. It’s the most recent supernova explosion in our galaxy, and when it exploded in 1604 it could be seen by the naked eye even during the day. The astronomer Johannes Kepler spent an entire year observing the supernova, which is why it’s named after him.

Today, a remnant of that supernova is still visible, as the gas and dust released by the explosion expands steadily outward into space. We can see that remnant sitting 11,000 light-years away using some powerful telescopes, but thanks to you can experience it for yourself in the comfort of your living room.

The researchers, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Brown University, as it appears today, and you can view this model from any angle using virtual reality.

While this model is open and available to the public, it was actually created with other scientists in mind. Being able to see a supernova like this in three dimensions gives scientists the ability to see things they otherwise would have missed.

“The first time I ever walked inside the same data set that I have been staring at for 20 years, I just immediately was fascinated by things I had never noticed, like how various bits of the iron were in different locations," said Kimberly Kowal Arcand, the project lead at Harvard. "The ability to look at something in three dimensions and being immersed in it just kind of opened up my eyes to think about it in different ways.”

If you want to explore the 3D supernova model, you can view it in your browser .

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