SN1987A images
Credit: Optical: NASA/CfA/P.Challis et al; Radio: MIT/ATN/Gaensler & Manchester; X-ray: NASA/PSU/D. Burrows et al.

A Blast from the Recent Past

The explosion of a massive star in the Large Magellanic Cloud (a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way) in 1987 provided a great deal of excitement, since this was the first nearby supernova in more than 400 years. Because of its proximity to the Milky Way, astronomers were able to determine the identity of the star that exploded, and have been able to monitor the evolution of the explosion as it interacts with the interstellar medium. The X-ray energy band is especially important, since the violent collision of the supernova ejecta and the interstellar medium generates extremely high temperatures (of a few million degrees or more) and causes the medium to glow brightly in X-rays. In addition, the remnant stellar core may also be a hot neutron star or black hole, which can be best identified by looking for emitted X-rays. The montage above shows 4 views of the interaction of the supernova ejecta with a ring of old material which was ejected from the star about 1000 years before the supernova. The image on the upper left shows a Hubble Space Telescope optical image taken 2 February 2000. The image on the upper right shows a radio image from 9 September 1999 obtained by the Australian Telescope Compact Array. The image on the lower right shows a Chandra X-ray image from 17 January 2000, while the image on the lower left is a Chandra X-ray image from 6 October 1999. The X-ray emission shows significant variability in a relatively short time, and suggests that more of the ejecta is plowing into the interstellar medium. As yet there is no sign of the neutron star or black hole at the center of the ring of hot gas. The diameter of the ring is about 1 light year, which immediately suggests that the ejecta is moving at a large fraction of the speed of light.

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified July 24, 2000