The bright, bubbly blobs seen in this image are supernova remnants – clouds of hot gas and debris that are left behind after the dramatic explosion that occurs at the end of a star’s life.


Theoretical models of the Universe predict that there should be far more of them scattered throughout the Milky Way than astronomers have so far been able to observe.

However, this new image, produced using data collected by the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) and the Parkes Observatory radio telescopes in Australia, has uncovered more than a dozen supernova remnants that were previously unknown. This suggests that there are many more hiding in plain sight elsewhere in the galaxy.

The image was produced as part of a collaboration between the Australia National Science Agency’s Evolutionary Map of the Universe (EMU) project and the PEGASUS radio telescope survey, which is led by Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics.

“This new picture showcases a region of the Milky Way, only visible to radio telescopes, where we can see extended emission associated with hydrogen gas filling the space between dying stars, related to the birth of new stars, and hot bubbles of gas called supernova remnants,” said Prof Andrew Hopkins, lead scientist of the EMU Project.

“Over twenty new possible supernova remnants have been discovered as a result of combining these images, where only seven were previously known.”

By pooling data from the two telescopes, the researchers were able to map a region covering roughly 1 per cent of the galactic plane of the Milky Way, the plane in which the majority of its mass lies. But this is just the start.

“The eventual results will be an unprecedented view of almost the entire Milky Way, about a hundred times larger than this initial image, but achieving the same level of detail and sensitivity,” said Hopkins.

“It is estimated that there may be about 1,500 more supernova remnants in the galaxy that astronomers haven’t discovered yet. Finding the missing remnants will help us unlock more of an understanding of our galaxy and its history.”

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Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.