Magazine article Science News

Mysterious Rings Surround Supernova

Magazine article Science News

Mysterious Rings Surround Supernova

Article excerpt

Supernova 1987A has intrigued astronomers ever since they witnessed the debut of this exploded star in a nearby galaxy 7 years ago. The latest finding -- to rings that resemble giant hula hoops -- has left scientists awhirl.

For Earth, the twin rings appear fuzzy. But the Hubble Space Telescope has now revealed the objects, one of which lies in front of the supernova, the other behind, in full detail. Astronomers have not found the features around any other exploded star. "This is an unprecedented and bizarre object," says codiscoverer Christopher Burrows of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

The Hubble image, which Burrows presented last week at a press conference in Washington, D.C., actually shows three rings -- the two newly discovered objects and a smaller, previously known inner ring. Scientists believe they known inner ring. Scientists believe they know how the inner ring formed, and depending upon which astronomer is doing the speculating, the two outer rings may or may not have the same origin.

The inner ring stems from material ejected by the supernova's parent star. Perhaps 30,000 years before it exploded, the parent had evolved into a bloated start called a red giant, which blew a low-speed, high-density wind into space.

A few thousand years before the supernova explosion, the red gaint became a more compact blue giant and expelled a higher-speed but lower-desnity wind. When the blue-giant wind caught up with the red-giant wind, it apparently compressed the material into an hourglass shape. …

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