Death of a star: Best photos ever captured

By AAP with AG staff 3 April 2013
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Scientists have captured highly detailed images of the demise of a giant star, the famous Supernova 1987A.

SCIENTISTS IN AUSTRALIA HAVE captured the most detailed images yet of the death of a giant star.

A team of astronomers led by the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) in Western Australia has revealed new images of the death throes of Supernova 1987A, the demise of which was first spotted more than 25 years ago.

Situated on the outskirts of the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud, SN1987A expired some 168,000 light years from Earth.

Detailed images of a supernova

Now, a team of astronomers from Australia and Hong Kong have succeeded in using the Australia Telescope Compact Array, a CSIRO radio telescope in NSW, to capture the highest resolution images yet of the expanding supernova. The findings are published in the Astrophysical Journal.

Lead author Dr Giovanna Zanardo of ICRAR, a joint venture between Curtin University and the University of Western Australia in Perth, says using the radio telescope had allowed unprecedented details to be captured.

“Unlike optical telescopes, a radio telescope can operate in the daytime and can peer through gas and dust allowing astronomers to see the inner workings of objects like supernova remnants, radio galaxies and black holes,” Giovanna says.

SN1987A was the closest observed supernova for nearly four centuries, when it was spotted by a team of astronomers observing the Large Magellanic Cloud. The sudden appearance of what initially looked like a new star turned out to be the spectacular end of an old one.

How a supernova is structured

The remnant of the supernova has continued to be a focus for researchers worldwide.

Professor Lister Staveley-Smith, at ICRAR, said the more detailed pictures would provide clues to how and why stars died. “The higher the resolution of the images, the more we can learn about the structure of this object,” he says.

The ICRAR team said from studying the images they now suspect the supernova explosion did not make the star collapse into a black hole.


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