Hubble's optical light observations of Supernova 1987A become even more valuable when they are combined with observations from telescopes that can measure other kinds of radiation from the exploding star. The image shows the evolving images of hot spots from the Hubble Telescope alongside images taken at approximately the same time from the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) radio observatory. The X-ray images show an expanding ring of gas, hotter than a million degrees, that has evidently reached the optical ring at the same time as the hot spots appeared. The radio images show a similar expanding ring of radio emission, caused by electrons moving through magnetized matter at nearly the speed of light.
Taken together, these observations chronicle a rare event never seen by astronomers: the birth of a supernova remnant. Supernova remnants are regions of interstellar space that have been heated to several millions of degrees by the impact of the debris from exploding stars with surrounding gas. Astronomers have found dozens of supernova remnants in our Milky Way galaxy, caused by supernova explosions that have occurred in the past few thousand years.
Credit: R. McCray (University of Colorado), D. Burrows and S. Park (Pennsylvania State University), and R. Manchester (Australia Telescope National Facility)