Supernova SN 1987A

… one of the brightest stellar explosions since the invention of the telescope more than 400 years ago, is no stranger to the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The observatory has been on the frontline of studies into this brilliant dying star since its launch in 1990, three years after the supernova exploded on 23 February 1987.

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The Veil Nebula - Sharpless 103

Located 1,500 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus is a cloud of heated and ionized gas and dust known as the Veil Nebula. The Veil Nebula is the visible portion of a massive supernova that erupted around 7,000 years ago to form what is now known as the Cygnus Loop. The Veil Nebula has a diameter of 100 light-years which appears to be 6 times the diameter of the full moon in the night sky. Due to the scale of the Veil, astronomers often segment the nebula into western (Caldwell 34), eastern (Caldwell 33) and northern portions. This particular images shows the western portion of the nebula with NGC 6960 (the Witches Broom), NGC 6979 (Pickering’s Triangle), and other significant cataloged objects.

Credit: NASA/Digital Sky Survey

Seeing a supernovae within hours of the explosion

For the first time ever, scientists have gathered direct evidence of a rare Wolf-Rayet star being linked to a specific type of stellar explosion known as a Type IIb supernova. Peter Nugent of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory says they caught this star – a whopping 360 million light years away – just a few hours after it exploded.

Hear more about this discovery →

Galactic Tides - The Whirlpool Galaxy And Its Companion 

Astrophysicists were able to determine that the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) and its small companion galaxy (NGC 5195) are tidally entwined by analyzing the light emitted from Supernova within M51. These Supernova have provided important clues about the structure and composition of these galaxies.

Credit: Cornell Astrophysics/NASA Hubble/IPAC 


Time for another out of this world comic for starry cosmos month!

This week’s entry, “Gamma Ray Bursts”

The Jellyfish Nebula - IC 443

“The Jellyfish Nebula is a Galactic supernova remnant (SNR) in the constellation Gemini. On the plan of the sky, it is located near the star Eta Geminorum. Its distance is roughly 5,000 light years from Earth.

IC 443 may be the remains of a supernova that occurred 3,000 - 30,000 years ago. The same supernova event likely created the neutron star CXOU J061705.3+222127, the collapsed remnant of the stellar core. IC 443 is one of the best-studied cases of supernova remnants interacting with surrounding molecular clouds.”

Credit: NASA/ESA/Wikipedia



  • Supernovae are stellar explosions that are so powerful they briefly outshine entire galaxies, radiating as much energy as the Sun or any ordinary star is expected to emit over its entire life span
  • The Universe is so vast that it is estimated that a star explodes every second. In a galaxy the size of our Milky Way, a star will go supernova every 50 years on average.
  • A star can go supernova in one of two ways: 
    • Type I supernova: star accumulates matter from a nearby neighbor until a runaway nuclear reaction ignites. 
    • Type II supernova: star runs out of nuclear fuel and collapses under its own gravity.
  • Supernovae play a key role in distributing elements throughout the universe. When the star explodes, it shoots elements and debris into space. Many of the elements we find here on Earth, including life, are made in the core of stars. These elements travel on to form new stars, planets and everything else in the universe.

Supernovae as seen by the Chandra X-Ray Observatory
Crab Nebula | Cassiopeia A  | Tycho’s Supernova Remnant  | G292.0+1.8

Do you know why your blood is red?

Because it’s got iron in it. Any idea where the iron in your blood came from?

A supernova.

Let me explain: Stars have lots of gravity. To balance the force of this gravity from crushing a star in on itself, it eats hydrogen and helium. It fuses them together which generates massive outward energy.

Well, they don’t have infinite food to eat. As they run out of hydrogen and helium, they start fusing heavier and heavier elements. Eventually they fuse iron into existence in their search for energy. Unfortunately (well, actually very fortunately for us) iron doesn’t release energy from fusion.

The moment a star starts fusing iron into existence (given it’s massive enough), a supernova begins. As the outward energy is lost the star collapses resulting in one of the largest explosions you’ll ever survive.

That’s because the building blocks that eventually came together to make you, like the iron in your blood, were forged in a supernova.