Supernova 1987A continues to mesmerize astronomers

The massive exploding star, dubbed Supernova 1987A, continues to mesmerize astronomers with its spectacular light show even three decades after its discovery on Feb. 23, 1987.

Supernova 1987A, which has the power of more than 100 million suns, is the nearest supernova located in the Large Magellanic Cloud. New images, time-lapse movies, and a data-based animation have been released by Salvatore Orlando at Italy’ INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico di Palermo to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the discovery of the Supernova 1987A.

Using data provided by U.S. space agency NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the international Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), anyone can explore the supernova like never before.

It provides the best opportunity for astronomers to study and learn more about the phases prior to, during and following the death of a massive star.

Robert Kirshner of Cambridge-based Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said, “The 30 years' worth of observations of SN 1987A are important because they provide insight into the last stages of stellar evolution.”

Supernovas like SN 1987A often stir up surrounding gas, triggering the creation of new stars and planets. The gas is typically enriched with elements like carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and iron, which are dispersed into the host galaxy by expanding remnants of the supernova. Ongoing studies of Supernova 1987A are expected to give unique insight into the early stages of such exploding stars’ dispersal.