On February 23rd, NASA celebrated 30 years since they had spotted one of the brightest supernovas ever witnessed. For the anniversary, the Hubble Space Telescope released a series of beautiful images and some new information regarding SN 1987A.
When the stellar explosion occurred, it generated fireworks of numerous colors and a glow that had the power of 100 million suns which kept on sparkling a few months after the discovery of the supernova in 1987. Its light show was one of the most spectacular ever seen and it continues to amaze astronomers even today.
Before the discovery of SN 1987A, astronomers did not know much about supernovas, since there were not so many events of the kind that they had witnessed. Fortunately, they spotted a bright new star that became visible in the Southern Hemisphere and kept on shining for a few months before turning faint.
This supernova was the death of a star that was part of the Large Magellanic Cloud. The astronomers identified it as the brightest that was visible from Earth since 1604. The event occurred 166,000 light-years away from us, in the Milky Way’s satellite galaxy called Tarantula Nebula. This is how astronomers got their first notions about the death of massive stars.
As compared to other smaller telescopes, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope could capture high-resolution images of the supernova. Thus, the scientists were able to analyze in detail the structures that surrounded the dead star.
For the 30th anniversary of the supernova, NASA decided to make public movies, images, and animations of SN 1987A. The majority of these images has been collected by Salvatore Orlando, astronomer at the Italian INAF – Osservatorio Astronomico di Palermo.
The images show ring-like structures that surrounded the star which were ejected 20,000 years before the supernova occurred. These structures have been illuminated several times. This happened for the first time when the supernova explosion occurred. Then, it happened again in 2001, when shock waves reached the structures.
The shock waves now reached a dense gas ring that was produced by the clash of two winds that were produced at different stages during the death of the star. This information can be used by the astronomers to understand how the supernova occurred.
They will continue their studies and will try to establish more about SN 1987A and the conditions under which it took place.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons