Supernova 1987A in the LMC

Distance: 168,000 Light Years

Location: Large Magellanic Cloud


SN 1987A was a recent supernova which occurred in the outer region of the Tarantula Nebula within the Large Magellanic Cloud. Located 168,000 light years away its light first reached earth on Febuary 23rd 1987. Visible with the naked eye from the southern hemisphere it was the closest supernova observable since SN 1604 which occurred within the Milky Way and was observed by Johannes Kepler. Its visible brightness peaked in May 1987 and then declined over several months. As it grew dimmer in visible light SN1987A grew brighter at X-ray and radio wavelengths as its shockwave crashed into surrounding ambient gases released thousands of years earlier by its progenitor star. This interaction has created the present day peculiar appearance of SN1987A in visible light. Three bright rings, each representing material energized by the ultraviolet "flash" of the supernova, were not immediately visible but began to "turn on" several months after the event. The ring-like structures occur as the ejecta of the supernova catches up with materials released thousands of years earlier during the progenitor stars red giant phase. SN 1987A is thought to be a "core collapse" supernova which should produce a neutron star however it's neutron star has not yet been identified.