Press Release

Fading Supernova is Producing a Spectaular New Light Show

By SpaceRef Editor
February 24, 2004
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Fading Supernova is Producing a Spectaular New Light Show

Seventeen years ago, astronomers spotted the brightest stellar explosion
ever seen since the one observed by Johannes Kepler 400 years ago.
Called SN 1987A, the titanic supernova explosion blazed with the power
of 100,000,000 suns for several months following its discovery on
Feb. 23, 1987. Although the supernova itself is now a million times
fainter than 17 years ago, a new light show in the space surrounding
it is just beginning.

This image, taken Nov. 28, 2003 by the Advanced Camera for Surveys
aboard NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, shows many bright spots along a
ring of gas, like pearls on a necklace. These cosmic "pearls" are being
produced as a supersonic shock wave unleashed during the explosion slams
into the ring at more than a million miles per hour. The collision is
heating the gas ring, causing its innermost regions to glow. Curiously,
one of the bright spots on the ring [at 4 o’clock] is a star that
happens to lie along the telescope’s line of sight.

Credit: NASA, P. Challis, R. Kirshner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for
Astrophysics) and B. Sugerman (STScI)

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SpaceRef staff editor.