illustration of Supernova 1987A

This artist’s illustration of Supernova 1987A is based on real data and reveals the cold, inner regions of the exploded star’s remnants (in red) where tremendous amounts of dust were detected and imaged by ALMA. Image © ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/Alexandra Angelich (NRAO/AUI/NSF)

Above: This inner region is contrasted with the outer shell (lacy white and blue circles), where the blast wave from the supernova is colliding with the envelope of gas ejected from the star prior to its powerful detonation.



Top image, shows the remnant of Supernova 1987A seen in light of very different wavelengths. ALMA data (in red) shows newly formed dust in the centre of the remnant. Hubble (in green) and Chandra (in blue) data show the expanding shock wave. Visible: NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. X-Ray image: The NASA Chandra X-Ray Observatory

Striking new observations with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope capture, for the first time, the remains of a recent supernova brimming with freshly formed dust. If enough of this dust makes the perilous transition into interstellar space, it could explain how many galaxies acquired their dusty, dusky appearance.

Galaxies can be remarkably dusty places and supernovae are thought to be a primary source of that dust, especially in the early Universe. But direct evidence of a supernova’s dust‐making capabilities has been slim up to now, and could not account for the copious amount of dust detected in young, distant galaxies. But now observations with ALMA are changing that.

“We have found a remarkably large dust mass concentrated in the central part of the ejecta from a relatively young and nearby supernova,” said Remy Indebetouw, an astronomer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and the University of Virginia, both in Charlottesville, USA. “This is the first time we’ve been able to really image where the dust has formed, which is important in understanding the evolution of galaxies.”

An international team of astronomers used ALMA to observe the glowing remains of Supernova 1987A, which is in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy orbiting the Milky Way about 160 000 light‐years from Earth. SN 1987A is the closest observed supernova explosion since Johannes Kepler’s observation of a supernova inside the Milky Way in 1604.



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