(This press release from May
19, 1994, is reproduced courtesy of the Space Telescope Science Institute.)
This striking NASA Hubble Space Telescope picture shows three
rings of glowing gas encircling the site of supernova 1987A, a
star which exploded in February 1987.
Though all of the rings appear inclined to our view (so that
they appear to intersect) they are probably in three different
planes. The small bright ring lies in a plane containing the
supernova, the two larger rings lie in front and behind it.
The rings are a surprise because astronomers expected to see,
instead, an hourglass shaped bubble of gas being blown into space
by the supernovas progenitor star (based on previous HST
observations, and images at lower resolution taken at
One possibility is that the two rings might be painted on the
invisible hourglass by a high-energy beam of radiation that is
sweeping across the gas, like a searchlight sweeping across
clouds. The source of the radiation might be a previously unknown
stellar remnant that is a binary companion to the star that
exploded in 1987.
The supernova is 169,000 light years away, and lies in the dwarf
galaxy called the Large Magellanic Cloud, which can be seen from
the southern hemisphere.
The image was taken in visible light (hyrdrogen-alpha emission),
with the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, in February 1994.
Credit: Dr. Christopher Burrows, ESA/STScI and NASA