A team of researchers has published the results of an extensive investigation into Supernova 1987A’s violent death, which was witnessed by astronomers in 1987.
They used the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) Telescope in Chile as well as the Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) in Australia to obtain a complete picture of the events.
“By combining observations from the two telescopes we’ve been able to distinguish radiation being emitted by the supernova’s expanding shock wave from the radiation caused by dust forming in the inner regions of the remnant,”
lead author Giovanna Zanardo of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research in Perth said.
Scientists attempted to separate the specific emissions coming from the supernova’s demise while also identifying signs of a new object that may have formed after the collapse of the star’s core. According to Zanardo, data collected with the ATCA and ALMA radio telescopes suggests that something never-before-seen may have formed at the center of what remains of Supernova 1987A. Whether that “something” is a spinning neutron star driven pulsar wind nebula or a pulsar is yet to be determined.
“It’s amazing that only now, with large telescopes like ALMA and the upgraded ATCA, we can peek through the bulk of debris ejected when the star exploded and see what’s hiding underneath,”
Scientists used the ATCA and ALMA telescopes to examine Supernova 1987A’s radio emissions in the infrared end of the spectrum. The supernova is located on the outskirts of Tarantula Nebula, within the Large Magellan Cloud (a neighboring galaxy, approximately 168,000 light-years away from the Milky Way). Its name stems from the first year that light from the supernova reached Earth and could be observed by an astronomer in Chile.
The researchers explain that by adding asymmetry to the study of the explosion, they were able to reproduce essential features from the real supernova, for instance, the persistent one-sidedness o the radio images.
Scientists noted that the left side of the supernova’s shockwave swells more rapidly than its right side, so that more radio emission originates there. This shock wave slams into the supernova’s equatorial ring, making the influence of the left side that much more obvious.
“Our simulation predicts that over time the faster shock will move beyond the ring first. When this happens, the lop-sidedness of radio asymmetry is expected to be reduced and may even swap sides.”
Data obtained with the ALMA and ATCA only confirms previous observations, and as such, scientists are confident that they finally have a handle on the physics of this expanding remnant.
“[Scientists] are beginning to understand the composition of the environment surrounding the supernova – which is a big piece of the puzzle solved in terms of how the remnant of SN1987A formed.”