New Supernova Remnant Lights Up

Using the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers
are witnessing the unprecedented transition of 
a supernova to a supernova remnant, where 
light from an exploding star in a neighboring 
galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud, reached 
Earth in February 1987. Named Supernova 
1987A, it was the closest supernova explosion 
witnessed in almost 400 years. The supernova's 
close proximity to Earth allows astronomers to 
study it in detail as it evolves. Now, the super-
nova debris, which has faded over the years, is 
brightening. This means that a different power 
source has begun to light the debris. The debris 
of SN 1987A is beginning to impact the surround-
ing ring, creating powerful shock waves that 
generate X-rays observed with NASA's Chandra 
X-ray Observatory. Those X-rays are illuminating 
the supernova debris and shock heating is making 
it glow in visible light. Since its launch in 1990, 
the Hubble telescope has provided a continuous 
record of the changes in SN 1987A.

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