Astronomy Picture of the Day

The Expanding Echoes of Supernova 1987A
Video Credit & Copyright: David Malin, AAT

Explanation: Can you find supernova 1987A? It isn’t hard — it occurred at the center of the expanding bullseye pattern. Although this stellar detonation was first seen in 1987, light from SN 1987A continued to bounce off clumps of interstellar dust and be reflected to us even many years later. Light echoes recorded between 1988 and 1992 by the Anglo Australian Telescope (AAT) in Australia are shown moving out from the position of the supernova in the featured time-lapse sequence. These images were composed by subtracting an LMC image taken before the supernova light arrived from later LMC images that included the supernova echo. Other prominent light echo sequences include those taken by the EROS2 and SuperMACHO sky monitoring projects. Studies of expanding light echo rings around other supernovas have enabled more accurate determinations of the location, date, and symmetry of these tremendous stellar explosions. Yesterday marked the 32nd anniversary of SN 1987A: the last recoded supernova in or around our Milky Way Galaxy, and the last to be visible to the unaided eye.

Tomorrow’s picture: sky sprite

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