Press Release

New Australia Telescope ‘eyes’ look at exploded star

By SpaceRef Editor
November 15, 2001
Filed under , ,

Astronomers are announcing today that they have used a new receiving
system on CSIRO’s Australia Telescope to make the first image at short
(12-millimetre) wavelengths of Supernova 1987A, the remains of an
exploded star in a nearby galaxy.

The picture marks another step in the telescope’s progress to sharper
eyesight.

The shorter the wavelength used to make a picture, the more detail
astronomers can see.

“We’ve proved that the system is going to work beautifully,” says CSIRO’s
Dr Richard Manchester.

The Australia Telescope Compact Array is a set of six radio-receiving
dishes near Narrabri, NSW, that work together as one world-class radio
telescope to make pictures of the sky.

Originally built to handle longer radio waves, the telescope is now being
upgraded to receive wavelengths of 3 and 12 millimetres. The upgrade was
funded by the first round of the Commonwealth’s Major National Research
Facilities program, and by CSIRO.

When the upgrade is complete the telescope will be able to see three
times more detail in the supernova wreckage than it could before. Only
the Hubble Space Telescope will be able to do better.

Engineers from the CSIRO Australia Telescope National Facility have been
working for more than three years to improve the system.

The heart of the upgrade is a chip made of the exotic material indium
phosphide, designed by CSIRO engineers and fabricated by the US company
TRW.

Supernova 1987A was the brightest supernova since telescopes were
invented four centuries ago. It has given astronomers vital clues about
what happens when stars explode.

It can be seen only from the Southern Hemisphere. The Australia Telescope
is the most advanced radio telescope in the south and has been tracking
the supernova’s remains since 1990, when the cloud of hot gas produced
by the explosion began to glow with radio waves.

“In this new image we’re seeing the effect of electrons that are moving
at almost the speed of light,” says Dr Bryan Gaensler of the Harvard-
Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who made the picture with Dr
Manchester. “The electrons gained these terrific speeds after being hit
by the sonic boom travelling outwards from the supernova.”

More information:

Dr Richard Manchester, CSIRO Australia Telescope National Facility
02-9372 4313, Dick.Manchester@csiro.au

Dr Bryan Gaensler, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
+1-617 496 7854, bgaensler@cfa.harvard.edu

Ms Helen Sim, CSIRO Australia Telescope National Facility
02-9372 4251, Helen.Sim@atnf.csiro.au

IMAGES

* The Australia Telescope’s first view of the supernova remnant at a
wavelength of 12-mm [47KB]
http://www.atnf.csiro.au/~rmanches/sn1987a_12mm.gif

* Australia Telescope images of the expanding supernova remnant at a
wavelength of 3 cm (in press in Publications of the Astronomical
Society of Australia) [330KB]
http://www.atnf.CSIRO.AU/~hsim/SN1987A_9frames.jpg

* A wide-angle Hubble Space Telescope view of the supernova remnant
and its surrounds
http://oposite.stsci.edu/pubinfo/pr/1999/04/pr-photos.html

* An HST image of the optical supernova ring ‘lighting up’ in February
2000
http://oposite.stsci.edu/pubinfo/PR/2000/11/index.html

* A ‘before and after’ image [470KB] of the exploding star, Supernova
1987a, from the Anglo-Australian Observatory. Image and caption
details can be downloaded from:
ftp://ftp.aao.gov.au/pub/local/dfm/image/1987A
Please credit as follows: “Copyright (or ©) Anglo-Australian
Observatory” and (optionally) “Photograph by David Malin”

[NOTE: An image [11KB] of the Australia Telescope Compact Array is available
at http://www.csiro.au/images/mediaReleases/atca_med.jpg]

Contacts:

Ms Rosie Schmedding

Communicator

CSIRO National Awareness

PO Box 225

Dickson ACT 2602

Phone: +61 2 6276 6520

Fax: +61 2 6276 6821

Mobile: +61 0418 622 653

Email: Rosie.Schmedding@nap.csiro.au

Ms Helen Sim

Sector Communicator

Australia Telescope National Facility

PO Box 76

Marsfield NSW 1710

Phone: +61 2 9372 4251

Fax: +61 2 9372 4310

Email: hsim@atnf.csiro.au

SpaceRef staff editor.