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NASA Reveals Stunning New Images Of A Supernova Discovered 30 Years Ago

It's one of the brightest stars ever seen.

27/02/2017 11:40 | Updated 27 February 2017

Discovered 30 years ago, Supernova 1987A is one of the brightest exploding stars of the last four centuries.

To commemorate its anniversary, NASA has now released a tranche of new data about the spectacular star, including striking imagery and time-lapse video.

The supernova is the closest star explosion seen in centuries, presenting an unique opportunity for astronomers to study the progress of the star’s death.

The images, animations and time-lapse video have been created from data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory and ALMA.

All three instruments have been collecting data about the star’s explosion since it was first discovered in 1987.

“The 30 years’ worth of observations of SN 1987A are important because they provide insight into the last stages of stellar evolution,” said Robert Kirshner of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in Palo Alto, California.

NASA ESA R Kirshner Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and M Mutchler and R Avila STScI
SN 1987A can be seen at the centre of this image, resembling a white eye with a bright white pupil. The image can be viewed in full here.

The data suggests the supernova has passed a critical threshold: the shockwave is now beyond the ring of gas produced late in the life of the pre-supernova. It’s knot known what lies beyond the ring.

“The details of this transition will give astronomers a better understanding of the life of the doomed star, and how it ended,” said Kari Frank of Penn State University who led the latest Chandra study of SN 1987A.

Supernovas occur when a change in a star’s core causes it to explode. They are the brightest explosions in space.

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