Explosion of Supernova 1987A

The new NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope image (June 10) shows the closest supernova explosion, called Supernova 1987A, witnessed in almost 400 years, which has allowed astronomers to study it in unprecedented detail as the outburst evolves.In the new Hubble image, SN 1987A is surrounded by a ring of material that blew off the star thousands of years before it exploded. The ring extends about one light-year (about 6 trillion miles or 9.5 trillion km) across. Inside that ring, the star’s guts are rushing outward in an expanding debris cloud.The debris of 1987A is beginning to impact the surrounding ring, which is creating powerful shock waves that produce X-rays that can be observed by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.

Those X-rays are illuminating the supernova debris and the heated shock waves are making it glow. This same process powers well-known supernova leftovers in our own galaxy, like Cassiopeia A.