Image release September 2, 2010
ABOUT THIS IMAGE: This image shows the entire region around supernova 1987A. The most prominent feature in the image is a ring with dozens of bright spots. A shock wave of material unleashed by the stellar blast is slamming into regions along the ring’s inner regions, heating them up, and causing them to glow. The ring, about a light-year across, was probably shed by the star about 20,000 years before it exploded.
An international team of astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope reports a significant brightening of the emissions from Supernova 1987A. The results, which appear in this week’s Science magazine, are consistent with theoretical predictions about how supernovae interact with their immediate galactic environment.
The team observed the supernova remnant in optical, ultraviolet, and near-infrared light. They studied the interaction between the ejecta from the stellar explosion and a glowing 6-trillion-mile-diameter ring of gas encircling the supernova remnant. The gas ring was probably shed some 20,000 years before the supernova exploded. Shock waves resulting from the impact of the ejecta onto the ring have brightened 30 to 40 pearl-like “hot spots” in the ring. These blobs likely will grow and merge together in the coming years to form a continuous, glowing circle.
“We are seeing the effect a supernova can have in the surrounding galaxy, including how the energy deposited by these stellar explosions changes the dynamics and chemistry of the environment,” said University of Colorado at Boulder Research Associate Kevin France of the Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy. “We can use these new data to understand how supernova processes regulate the evolution of galaxies.”
Discovered in 1987, Supernova 1987A is the closest exploding star to Earth to be detected since 1604 and it resides in the nearby Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy adjacent to our own Milky Way Galaxy.
Credit: NASA, ESA, K. France (University of Colorado, Boulder), and P. Challis and R. Kirshner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)