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Monday, 8 February, 1999, 14:00 GMT
When a star explodes

Ejected gas rings Ejected gas rings expand from the exploded star


By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

Glittering stars with wisps of gas interlaced between them create a backdrop for the self-destruction of a massive star called supernova 1987A. The explosion, in the Large Magellanic Cloud, an outrigger galaxy to our Milky Way, was observed in 1987

It is the first supernova explosion observed in our galaxy or its companions since the invention of the telescope early in the 17th century.


SN 1987A Close up of SN 1987A
Shown in this Hubble Space Telescope (HST) image, the supernova remnant, surrounded by inner and outer rings of material, is set in clouds of ethereal, diffuse clouds of gas.

The three-colour image is composed of several pictures of the supernova and its neighbouring region taken with HST's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2.

The many bright blue stars near to the supernova are large stars, each more than six times more massive than our Sun. Aged around 12 million years old, they are members of the same generation of stars as the star that went supernova.

The presence of bright gas clouds is another sign of the youth of this region, which still appears to be a fertile breeding ground for new stars.

In a few years, material moving out from the explosion will sweep through the inner ring, heating and exciting its gas to produce a new series of cosmic fireworks that will offer a striking view for more than a decade.
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See also:
09 Apr 98 |  Sci/Tech
Astronomers see 'jewel-box' in the sky
12 Jun 98 |  Sci/Tech
Hubble finds ring of stars
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Hubble's deep space core

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