Supernova 1987a at 20 - the movie!

This year is full of anniversaries; 50 years of the space age, 50 years of the Lovell Telescope, 50 years of NRAO, 40 years since the discovery of pulsars and, tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of the supernova explosion 1987a which was observed on 23rd February 1987. The star that went supernova is actually 163,000 light years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud and frankly, I'm glad it was that far away; I don't want a supernova going off anywhere near me.

To celebrate this 20th anniversary, the Hubble Space Telescope has released images of a ring of glowing gas surrounding SN 1987a. One suggestion for the origin of this ring is that it is made from gas originally shed from the original star about 20,000 years before it went supernova. That material headed off into space and is now starting to glow as it gets shocked by the later (but faster) material ejected from the supernova explosion. Check out the nice graphic which explains this much better than I've just done.

In the HST images spanning 12 years, you can see the changes in the brightness of the ring as bits of the inner edge get shocked. You can also see the central bipolar outflow dim and even expand. Following my attempt at the V838 Mon movie, I couldn't resist making an animation with the SN 1987a images. Enjoy!

CREDIT: Nasa, ESA, P. Challis & R. Kirshner. Animation: Stuart, Astronomy Blog

Check out the press release for the full details of the images.

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Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Thursday 22nd Feb 2007 (19:55 CET) | Permalink
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