Star V838 Monocerotis
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Star V838 Monocerotis

December 5, 2003
Variable star V838 Monocerotis startled astronomers in January of 2002, undergoing a dramatic outburst like no other variable star known. Followed closely by ground-based instruments and the Hubble Space Telescope over the following months, it was soon realized that the quickly evolving dusty nebula surrounding V838 Mon was in fact made visible by light echoes from the outburst. Remarkably, as light from the outburst plays across layers of pre-existing circumstellar material, it gives the surrounding nebulosity the illusion of expanding faster than light. Though the nebula's visible appearence changes dramatically over a period of months, it is actually at least 6 light years in diameter. A good astrophysical explanation for V838 Mon's outbursting behavior is still unknown but astronomers continue to follow the mystery star. This gorgeous image was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

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