Chandra X-Ray Observatory illuminates Supernova 1987A

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Chandra and Hubble images of SN 1987A

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Recent images from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory reveal details of the nature of the star that became Supernova 1987A. In the time just before the star exploded, solar winds created a cavity in a cloud of cool gas that surrounded it. The explosion first lit up the cooler gas with a burst of ultraviolet light, then created a shock wave that started travelling through this cavity.

"In 1999, Chandra imaged this shock wave, and astronomers have waited expectantly for the shock wave to hit the edge of the cavity, where it would encounter the much denser gas deposited by the red supergiant wind, and produce a dramatic increase in X-radiation. The latest data from Chandra and the Hubble Space Telescope indicate that this much-anticipated event has begun." an article on the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics' Chandra website states.

These events confirm scientists' understanding of stars. As the shock wave continues it will travel through less understood material, hopefully allowing scientists to further their research into the birth and death of stars, and the overall behaviour of the universe.