New animations released by NASA are recasting a ground-breaking astronomical moment in a whole new light.
On 24 February 1987, astronomers Oscar Dhalde and Ian Shelton witnessed an incredible sight atop a Chilean mountain: a new star in the night sky. Soon, however, they realised it was not a star’s birth; rather, it was a blue supergiant meeting its doom.
In that moment, the fusion-powered core of the star – previously called Sanduleak-69° 202 – began to falter. Most astronomers agree the blast happened because the star’s core ran low on high-energy fuel, while some believe another star merged with the blue supergiant to trigger the blast.
Either way, the star collapsed under its own gravity, exploded, and spewed radioactive guts all over space – with the power of 100 million suns. We now call the object Supernova 1987A, or SN 1987A.
“Supernova 1987A became one of the best opportunities ever for astronomers to study the phases before, during, and after the death of a star,” a video produced by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory team said.
The data has provided lots clues about supernovas, including how they forge the new elements that life needs to evolve and distribute them around the universe.
NASA recently commemorated the supernova’s anniversary with a bunch of new multimedia, and a few of the images and animations caught our eye.
This vast distance means the explosion technically happened 168,000 years in the past, at least relative to where we live. It took that long for the light from the blast to reach us.
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