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Hubble reveals violent supernova shockwave

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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

February 17, 2000
Web posted at: 9:14 AM EST (1414 GMT)


In this story:

Tied in bright knots

'The slugfest will begin'

RELATED STORIES icon



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 supernova shockwave.

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."



RELATED STORIES:
Hubble images unlock Keyhole Nebula mysteries
February 3, 2000
Hubble reopens celestial eye to Eskimo nebula, galactic zoom lens
January 24, 2000
Hubble catches a cosmic 'bubble'
January 18, 2000
Fireworks of star birth light up nearby galaxy
January 11, 2000
Hubble reveals galactic collisions more common than expected
November 22, 1999
Hubble snaps clues about origin of spiral galaxies
October 6, 1999
Stellar nursery in nearby galaxy teems with activity
September 29, 1999

RELATED SITES:
Space Telescope Science Institute
Astronomy Pictures from the Hubble Heritage Project
NASA Homepage

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