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Titanic Stellar Explosion - Windows to the Universe

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Recent HST obervations show a brightening knot on the upper righthand corner of this image. This is the site of the collision between the outward moving blast wave and the innermost circumstellar ring.
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Image courtesy of Hubble Space Telescope

Titanic Stellar Explosion
News story originally written on March 4, 1998

Shock waves from supernova explosion collide with gas ring!! Traveling at 40 million mph, a wave of energy released in a supernova explosion has begun to collide with a ring of gas surrounding the area of the explosion.

The supernova explosion was first observed on February 23, 1987. Although the star actually blew up in about 165,000 BC, the light from the explosion had just arrived at Earth. This is the closest supernova to Earth in 400 years.

The ring of gas around the explosion was formed before the star exploded. As the debris from the supernova hits the ring at extreme speeds, the temperature of the ring increases from a few thousand degrees to a million degrees Farenheit! In a few years, the entire ring will have lit up. The lit ring is expected to also light up the space around it, shedding light on objects that were previously too dark to see.

Astronomers are expecting to be able to answer questions about the supernova's past, such as what type of star caused the explosion, and explain things about the strange gas rings surrounding the supernova.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF