GK Persei: Nova Persei 1901

Click on image for larger version.

Shown here is the nova shell of GK Persei (in the constellation of Perseus around 1,500 light years away). Only recently have astronomers unraveled the mysterious processes of novae and their repeat performances. A classical nova outburst is created by a hot white dwarf and a cooler companion that transfers mass (gas). The gas that falls towards the white dwarf creates a circumstellar accretion disk. When enough gas builds in the disk, conditions lead to hydrogen burning and a thermonuclear runaway reaction (explosion). The shockwave and expanding shell of hot gas create the firework-like structure of GK Persei. Typically the explosions of classical novae are more frequent and thereby less energetic since there isn't enough fuel in the accretion disk to cause a large explosion like this. However, for whatever reason, GK Persei built up enough gas in its disk to detonate back in 1901. Later in 1902 the expanding shell became visible. At its maximum GK Persei ranked among the brightest stars in the sky and the expanding gas reached velocities of 1200 km/s. Astronomers are still not exactly certain why this shell is asymmetric and convoluted in nature. This shell contains around 0.0001 solar masses.

Should a white dwarf like this manage to accrete the mass directly on to its surface it may blow up in dramatic fashion- such as Cassiopeia A .


20in RC Optical Systems telescope Operating at f/8.4
Paramount ME Robotic Telescope Mount
SBIG ST10XME CCD camera with color filter wheel

L R G B color production was used to create this image.

Luminance = 195 minutes binned 1x1
Red = 20 minutes binned 3x3
Green = 20 minutes binned 3x3
Blue = 20 minutes binned 3x3

  • Some of the data was taken with Mark Hanson under the auspices of Doc G.
  • Given the color of this object- it would make an excellent candidate for RRGB imagery.
  • One iteration of L-R deconvolution (sharpening) algorithm using CCDsharp was applied to the luminance image.

  • The AO unit was used to acquire this image.
  • Minimum credit line: Adam Block/NOAO/AURA/NSF

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    Updated: 11/19/2003