Guts of Exploded Star Revealed
A team of astronomers led by the University of Colorado at Boulder are charting the interactions between Supernova 1987A and a glowing gas ring encircling the supernova remnant known as the "String of Pearls." [Full Story
Credit: NASA

A wave of "star guts" ejected into space from the supernova explosion of a massive dying star has been spotted by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The new supernova image allows astronomers to measure the velocity and composition of the former star's debris, which scientists are calling cosmic "guts," as it interacts with the surrounding environment. [Photo of the supernova star guts.]

The new study, led by Kevin France, a research associate at the Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy at the University of Colorado in Boulder, targeted the remnants of Supernova 1987A, which was first discovered in 1987.

France and his colleagues observed the interaction between the stellar explosion and the circumstellar material around the former star ? forming what looks like a "string of pearls." A new video of SN1987A illustrates the odd formation.

The glowing ring of gas that measures 6 trillion miles (9.6 trillion km) in diameter encircles the supernova remnant and is energized by X-rays. These "pearls" of circumstellar material are made up of material that was emitted before the star exploded, as it was preparing to die.

The shock waves from the supernova have been brightening some 30 to 40 pearls in the ring. As the stellar debris interacts with the circumstellar material over time, the pearls will eventually form a continuous glowing circle around the remnant.

SN1987A is about 150,000 light-years away from Earth on the outskirts of the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud, the nearest galaxy to our own Milky Way.

The age of the original star that set off the explosion remains unclear, but is estimated to be between 5 million and 10 million years.

Analyzing supernovas is important because their intense energy may also trigger much larger cosmic interactions, and could be responsible for regulating the physical state and long-term evolution of galaxies, France said.

"In the big picture, we are seeing the effect a supernova can have in the surrounding galaxy, including how the energy deposited by these stellar explosions changes the dynamics and chemistry of the environment," said he added. "We can use this new data to understand how supernova processes regulate the evolution of galaxies."

The study is detailed in the Sept. 2 issue of the journal Science.