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MPE News August 4, 2010

View of a Stellar Explosion in 3D

An international team of astronomers have for the first time obtained a three-dimensional view of the distribution of the innermost material expelled by a recently exploded star using data SINFONI instrument, which combines the SPIFFI spectrograph constructed at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics with adaptive optics at ESO's Very Large Telescope. The high spatial resolution and the capability to study several parts of the supernova's chaotic core simultaneously using integral field spectroscopy was necessary for the build-up of the 3D image.

SN 1987A
This artist's impression of the material around a recently exploded star, known as Supernova 1987A (or SN 1987A), is based on observations which have for the first time revealed a three dimensional view of the distribution of the expelled material.
Credit: ESO / L. Calçada
Seen in 1987, the Supernova 1987A (SN 1987A) in the Large Magellanic Cloud was a bonanza for astronomers: Due to its relative closeness, it has made it possible for astronomers to study the explosion of a massive star and its aftermath in more detail than ever before. The new observations now made it possible to obtain the first-ever 3D reconstruction of the central parts of the exploding material. The original blast was not only powerful, according to the new results. It was also more concentrated in one particular direction. This asymmetry is a strong indication that the supernova must have been very turbulent, supporting the most recent computer models.

This view shows that the explosion was stronger and faster in some directions than others, leading to an irregular shape with some parts stretching out further into space. The first material to be ejected from the explosion travelled at an incredible 100 million km per hour, which is about a tenth of the speed of light. Even at this breakneck speed it has taken 10 years to reach a previously existing ring of gas and dust puffed out from the dying star. The images also demonstrate that another wave of material is travelling ten times more slowly and is being heated by radioactive elements created in the explosion.


    externer Verweis ESO Press Release
    externer Verweis Zoom-in on SN 1987A (ESO movie)
    externer Verweis SPIFFI- pages at MPE

internal link Dr. Hannelore Hämmerle
Press Officer
Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik
phone: +49 89 30000-3980
email: hanneh@mpe.mpg.de

internal link Dr. Frank Eisenhauer
Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik
phone: +49 89 30000-3563
email: eisenhau@mpe.mpg.de
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