Hubble reveals violent supernova shockwave
These images obtained by the Hubble show the glowing gas ring around supernova 1987A as seen on February 2. The second version is enhanced to emphasize the four newly discovered bright knots of superheated gas
BALTIMORE, Maryland (CNN) -- The Hubble Space Telescope has given
scientists a great view of a spectacular fire show 169,000
light-years away -- the glowing aftermath of one of the most
violent celestial collisions ever witnessed.
Thirteen years after astronomers spotted a massive supernova,
a blast wave has begun to light up a gas ring around the
fallen star. Hubble team members released new images of the
titanic collision this week.
Racing outward at 40 million miles (64 million km) per hour,
the shockwave has compressed the gas ring, heated it up to
millions of degrees and set it ablaze, the Space Telescope Science Institute said in a statement.
Tied in bright knots
In the latest pictures, taken on February 2, the orbiting
observatory detected four bright knots on the gas ring in
places that had dimmed for 10 years, astronomers said. The supernova was first spotted in February 1987.
A precursor to the current fireworks show took place in 1997
when the Hubble observatory observed an earlier knot as the
first wave of gaseous debris collided with the ring.
That first knot, still glowing, could have been "part of the
ring stuck closer to the star," said Hubble spokesman Ray Villard.
'The slugfest will begin'
Hubble scientist Robert Kirshner called the first bright knot
"the opening jab."
"Now the dancing around is over and the slugfest will begin,"
said Kirshner, an astronomer with the Harvard-Smithsonian
Center for Astrophysics.
Astronomers figured the violent collision was only a matter
of time, based on Hubble observations of the earlier
Hubble team members don't know how many additional beads will
light up along the ring, but they expect quite a show over
the next decade.
"We'll just to wait and see what lights up next," Villard said. "But the fact that four new ones lit up suggests that much of the surface is ready to light up."
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Space Telescope Science Institute
Astronomy Pictures from the Hubble Heritage Project
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