In 1987, the nearest supernova seen in nearly four centuries lit up Earth’s skies. Here’s what it looks like today.
“When a star goes supernova, the explosion emits enough light to overshadow an entire solar system, even a galaxy. Such explosions can set off the creation of new stars.” –Todd Nelsen
In 1987, the closest observed supernova to Earth since 1604 occurred, as a supergiant star in the Large Magellanic Cloud exploded.
The largest star-forming region in the Local Group, the Tarantula Nebula contains many of the most massive stars in the known Universe, all destined for Type II supernovae.
The first signal seen wasn’t from light, but rather neutrinos, created as the core of the star imploded.
Runaway nuclear reactions produce both, but neutrinos pass through the stellar material unimpeded, arriving three hours before the first light signals.
The supernova light brightened and then dimmed, but the surrounding gas, blown off from the supergiant, remains illuminated by radiation.
As shockwaves from the explosion move outwards, they collide with interstellar material, producing brightening rings of material.
Radio observations reveal gas, while X-rays show the peak energies.
The faint, outer rings teach us that multiple ejection events happened before the final explosion.
Despite being 168,000 light years distant, our great observatories deliver incredible resolution of this remnant.
The closest supernova since the telescope’s invention has enabled improved supernova simulations.
Energetic gas outflows ensure it will remain luminous for millennia to come.
Mostly Mute Monday tells the story of an astronomical event, object or phenomenon in pictures, visuals and no more than 200 words.
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