Motions of a remarkable cosmic structure have been measured for the first time, using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, it was reported on Thursday (24 June).
The blast wave and debris from an exploded star are seen moving away from the explosion site and colliding with a wall of surrounding gas.
Astronomers estimate that light from the supernova explosion reached Earth about 1,700 years ago, or when the Mayan empire was flourishing and the Jin dynasty ruled China.
However, by cosmic standards, the supernova remnant formed by the explosion, called MSH 15-52, is one of the youngest in the Milky Way galaxy.
The explosion also created an ultra-dense, magnetized star called a pulsar, which then blew a bubble of energetic particles, an X-ray-emitting nebula.
Since the explosion, the supernova remnant - made of debris from the shattered star, plus the explosion's blast wave - and the X-ray nebula have been changing as they expand outward into space. Notably, the supernova remnant and X-ray nebula now resemble the shape of fingers and a palm.
Previously, astronomers had released a full Chandra view of the "hand," as shown in this graphic. A new study is now reporting how quickly the supernova remnant associated with the hand is moving, as it strikes a cloud of gas called RCW 89.
The inner edge of this cloud forms a gas wall located about 35 light years from the centre of the explosion. To track the motion the team used Chandra data from 2004, 2008, and then a combined image from observations taken in late 2017 and early 2018.