The remains of a supernova

In February of 1987, astronomers saw a star explode in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a tiny dwarf galaxy located approximately 163,000 light-years from Earth.

Over the next 30 years, observations of the remnant of that explosion – now known as Supernova 1987A – revealed never-before-seen details about the death of stars and how atoms created in those stars spill out into space and combine to form new molecules and dust. These microscopic particles may eventually find their way into future generations of stars and planets.

The colourful multiwavelength image of the intricate remains of Supernova 1987A shown above was created by combining observations from three different observatories.

The red colour shows newly formed dust in the centre of the supernova remnant, taken at submillimetre wavelengths by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope in Chile. The green and blue hues reveal where the expanding shock wave from the exploded star is colliding with a ring of material around the supernova. The green represents the glow of visible light, captured by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. The blue colour reveals the hottest gas and is based on data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. 

Recent observations have allowed astronomers to produce a 3D model of the various molecules inside the supernova remnant.

Read more at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

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