Apr 13, 2017
Picture of the month
Thirty years ago, a massive stellar explosion sent shock waves not only through space but also through the astronomical community. Detected on 23 February 1987 in the Large Magellanic Cloud – a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way – SN 1987A was the nearest supernova explosion observed in hundreds of years. Since its launch in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has observed the expanding dust cloud of SN 1987A several times to give astronomers a better understanding of these cosmic explosions. Its latest image, shown here, was taken earlier this year to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the supernova. Supernova 1987A is visible in the centre of the image amid a backdrop of stars and surrounded by gaseous clouds. The bright ring around the remains of the exploded star is about one light-year across and was probably ejected about 20,000 years before the star exploded. The origin of the two fainter rings, which extend like mirror images in an hourglass-shaped structure, is still not fully understood.
About the author
Compiled by Marc Türler, ISDC and Observatory of the University of Geneva, and CHIPP, University of Zurich.