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Supernova 1987A: 30 Years After The Cosmic Explosion

First Posted: Feb 25, 2017 03:30 AM EST
SN 1987A
Astronomers celebrate SN 1987A's 30th birthday with new discoveries.
(Photo : NASA.gov Video/YouTube screenshot)

Astronomers celebrated the 30th birthday of Supernova 1987A (SN 1987A) with a stunning photo of the star's evolution. Taken through the Hubble Space Telescope in January 2017, the image displays the glowing hydrogen gas surrounding the supernova remnant.

Astronomy.com reported that SN 1987A has continued to captivate astronomers since its massive explosion in the Southern Hemisphere skies on Feb. 23, 1987. Located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, 166,000 lightyears away from Earth, the supernova has given astronomers amazing insights on the final stages of giant stars for the past 30 years.

"The 30 years' worth of observations of SN 1987A are important because they provide insight into the last stages of stellar evolution," said Robert Kirshner of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in a press release.

Following the explosion of SN 1987A, a new star has been made visible to the naked eye until it faded in May of that year. Ground-based and space telescopes have been keeping an eye on the phenomenon, including NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray telescope.

"The details of this transition will give astronomers a better understanding of the life of the doomed star, and how it ended," said Kari Frank of Penn State University who led the latest Chandra study of SN 1987A.

According to Universe Today, Hubble was launched in 1990, three years after the supernova was detected. It was later joined in space by Chandra X-ray telescope in 1999.

Recent images of SN 1987A reveal a ring-like structure surrounding the supernova's progenitor star and two outer rings that appear like an hourglass. Astronomers believe that the star had given birth to its forerunner 20,000 years before its massive explosion.

Supernovas like SN 1987A can stimulate its surrounding gas that could prompt the formation of new stars and planets.

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