Dawn of a new era for Supernova 1987A

Three decades ago, astronomers spotted one of the brightest supernovae in more than 400 years. The stellar explosion, SN 1987A, blazed with the power of 100 million suns for several months after its discovery on 23 February 1987.

Located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, one of the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies, SN 1987A was the nearest supernova explosion observed in centuries and it quickly became the best studied supernova of all time. Over the last thirty years, detailed follow-up observations with telescopes both in space and on the ground have allowed astronomers to study the death throes of a massive star in unprecedented detail, from star to supernova to supernova remnant, revolutionising our understanding of these explosive events.

With its superb sensitivity at millimetre and submillimetre wavelengths, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has been exploring previously unstudied aspects of SN 1987A since 2013. Astronomers are using ALMA to observe the glowing remains of the supernova in high resolution, studying how the remnant is making vast amounts of dust from the new elements created in the progenitor star. A portion of this dust will make its way into interstellar space and may one day be the material from which future planets around other stars are made. These observations suggest that dust in the early Universe was created by similar supernova explosions.

The composite image presented here combines observations made with ALMA, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and NASA’s Chandra X-Ray observatory.



Hubble: NASA, ESA, R. Kirshner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation) and P. Challis (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)
Chandra: NASA/CXC/Penn State/K. Frank et al.

About the Image

Release date:27 February 2017, 06:00
Size:2000 x 2000 px

About the Object

Name:SN 1987A
Type:Milky Way : Nebula : Type : Supernova Remnant
Milky Way : Star : Evolutionary Stage : Supernova
Distance:170000 light years

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Position (RA):5 35 28.21
Position (Dec):-69° 16' 10.90"
Field of view:0.11 x 0.11 arcminutes
Orientation:North is 0.1° right of vertical