Beautiful supernova 1987A was discovered in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a nearby satellite to our Milky Way, when the light from its enormous explosion reached the earth in February 1987. Over the years, astronomers have continued to study what happened when the faraway star exploded. A team using the Australia Telescope Compact Array CSIRO radio telescope in northern New South Wales and led by the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) has just published their findings in April’s The Astrophysical Journal. They’ve also released some remarkable images.
“Imaging distant astronomical objects like this at wavelengths less than 1 centimetre demands the most stable atmospheric conditions,” Dr. Giovanna Zanardo of ICRAR said, adding that they could usually only use the telescope in winter. However, since it’s a radio telescope, at least they could work during the day.
As the large team examined the remains of the dying supernova 1987A, they made a surprising discovery. By comparing the radio signal to the optical photographs and X-rays measurements, they have been able to work out a better idea of what is actually happening to the remains of the self-destructive star.
When a supernova explodes, there’s often a core collapse which leads to the formation of a black hole. For instance, in February, NASA released photos and video about what could be the youngest black hole that formed that way in our Milky Way galaxy.
However, there doesn’t seem to be a black hole at the center of supernova 1987A. Instead, it looks like there’s some kind of a small radio source at the core, perhaps a “pulsar wind nebula.” A well-known example of that kind of nebula is the beautiful Crab Nebula.
Here’s an awesome color image of the dying supernova 1987A region created with the use of three telescopes. In pink, you have the radio contours caught by Australian Compact Array in New South Wales. In green is the optical image from the Hubble Space telescope. And in blue is the X-ray signal captured by NASA’s based Chandra X-ray Observatory:
If that isn’t enough, check out our previous report on two other recently released supernova photos.
Are you as amazed as I am to find out how many telescopes and teams are needed to seek out the truth behind the death of Supernova 1987A?
[top image courtesy ICRAR and Hubble is an overlay of the radio telescope findings with Hubble’s previous optical photography]