From: National Radio Astronomy Observatory
Published July 10, 2017 01:50 PM

Heart of an Exploded Star Observed in 3-D

Supernovas — the violent endings of the brief yet brilliant lives of massive stars — are among the most cataclysmic events in the cosmos. Though supernovas mark the death of stars, they also trigger the birth of new elements and the formation of new molecules.

In February of 1987, astronomers witnessed one of these events unfold inside 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 revealed never-before-seen details about the death of stars and how atoms created in those stars — like carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen — 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.

Recently, astronomers used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to probe the heart of this supernova, named SN 1987A. ALMA’s ability to see remarkably fine details allowed the researchers to produce an intricate 3-D rendering of newly formed molecules inside the supernova remnant. These results are published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Read more at National Radio Astronomy Observatory

Image: Remnant of Supernova 1987A as seen by ALMA. Purple area indicates emission from SiO molecules. Yellow area is emission from CO molecules. The blue ring is Hubble data that has been artificially expanded into 3-D. (Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO); R. Indebetouw; NASA/ESA Hubble)

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