The Expanding Light Echo of Red Supergiant Star V838 Monocerotis
This image shows a time sequence of Hubble Space Telescope images of the light echo around V838 Mon, taken between May 2002 and October 2004. All six pictures were taken with Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys using filters sensitive to blue, visible, and infrared wavelengths. The apparent expansion of the light echo, as light from the early 2002 outburst of V838 Mon propagates outward into the surrounding dust, is clearly shown.
All of the images are shown at the same scale. Moreover, the images are also shown as they would appear for the same exposure times throughout the sequence. Thus the background stars appear constant in brightness, while the surface brightness of the light echo steadily declines. The fading of the light echo is primarily due to the light-scattering properties of interstellar dust. Consider a street lamp on a foggy night. The halo around the lamp is brightest right next to the lamp, while out to the side it is much fainter. Similarly, in the first V838 Mon image, taken in May 2002, the light echo was very bright and compact. At later times, we are seeing dust out to the side of the star, rather than dust that is immediately in front of the star, so the amount of light scattered in our direction is smaller. Hubble astronomers expect the light echo to continue to change its appearance and brightness over the next several years.