20th Anniversary of the Brightest Supernova in Recent History

Supernova 1987A. Image Credit: HubbleOnly 20 years ago, astronomers were treated to one of the most powerful nearby explosions – a sight not seen in 400 years, before the advent of modern telescopes. What we now call Supernova 1987A detonated in the Large Magellenic Cloud providing a wealth of data for astronomers. Okay, it actually detonated 163,000 years ago, but that’s how long it took the light to reach us.

Once it was in orbit, and its optics repaired, SN 1987A was one of the first targets for the Hubble Space Telescope. Hubble revealed how a supernova is much more complicated than astronomers ever expected, and helped rewrite the textbooks on exploding stars.

The attached image shows the amazing glowing ring of material surrounding the supernova. The ring has been there for years, but the supernova is illuminating it as the light echo moves through the material energizing the gas. As this ring of light continues to expand, it’ll reveal more details about what the star went through before it exploded.

This image was taken in December 2006, using Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys.

Original Source: Hubble News Release