Supernova Autopsy Data Helps Astronomers Map Star Death

An article published this week in the Astrophysical Journal highlights all of the valuable data astronomers have derived from performing a “supernova autopsy” on a star death event first witnessed back in 1987. A team of researchers published the results of their extensive investigation into Supernova 1987A, and they report a number of interesting findings.

The researchers used the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) Telescope in Chile and the Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) in Australia to make their observations.

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More on Supernova 1987A

The star that collapsed in on itself and went supernova is located on the outskirts of the Tarantula Nebula, within the Magellanic Cloud, a nearby galaxy around 168,000 light-years away. The event is called Supernova 1987A because that was when light from the supernova first reached Earth and was first noted by a Chilean astronomer.

Signs of new object forming after supernova

In analyzing the data from the two radio telescopes, astronomers tried to separate the emissions coming from the supernova’s demise from those coming from a new object that seems to have formed following the collapse of the star’s core. Zanardo explains that the data collected with the ATCA and ALMA radio telescopes suggests that a never-before-seen celestial object might have formed at the center of Supernova 1987A. Whether this new object is a spinning neutron star-driven pulsar wind nebula or a pulsar has not been conclusively determined yet.

Statement from lead researcher

Lead author Giovanna Zanardo of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research in Perth noted:

“By combining observations from the two telescopes we’ve been able to distinguish radiation being emitted by the supernova’s expanding shock wave from the radiation caused by dust forming in the inner regions of the remnant.”

“It’s amazing that only now, with large telescopes like ALMA and the upgraded ATCA, we can peek through the bulk of debris ejected when the star exploded and see what’s hiding underneath,”

Zanardo added.