Above and Beyond: Supernova 1987A

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In 1987, astronomers saw the brightest supernova seen on Earth in 400 years. Shortly after its launch in 1990, Hubble observed three rings of gas and dust ejected by the star before it exploded.

Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach.
All images, illustrations, and videos courtesy of NASA, ESA, and STScI except:
·       Night sky imagery created with Stellarium
·       Images of supernova in the Pinwheel Galaxy (SN 2011fe) courtesy of Peter Nugent and the Palomar Transient Factory, Thunderf00t (Wikipedia), and BJ Fulton/LCOGT
·       Type Ia supernova animation courtesy of ESO/M. Kornmesser
·       Taurus constellation drawing from Firmamentum Sobiescianum sive Uranographia by Johannes Hevelius, courtesy of the United States Naval Observatory
·       Black-and-white Crab Nebula image: Bill Schoening/NOAO/AURA/NSF
·       Drawing of the Crab Nebula by William Parsons, the Third Earl of Rosse
Written by Vanessa Thomas
Designed by John Godfrey


 Stars and red gases in space. A bright red sphere in the center. 

Text, SN 1987A SUPERNOVA. In 1987, astronomers spotted the brightest supernova seen on Earth in nearly four centuries. 

Soon after its launch in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope discovered three rings of gas and dust around the blast site that were ejected by the star before it exploded. 

The red sphere enlarges. There are distinct rings of red and pink dust. 

Since then, Hubble has watched the innermost ring light up, bit by bit, as a shock wave set off by the supernova slams into the ring. 

The star in the center of the ring darkens to purple. The ring turns progressively from orange to white in flashes.