Release 882 of 1,117

Hubble Chemically Analyzes the Ring around Supernova 1987A

Release date: May 12, 1997 11:00 AM (EDT)
Release type: Early Release Observation

These pictures from the Hubble telescope's imaging spectrograph provide a new and unprecedented look at one of the most unique and complex structures in the universe – a light-year-wide ring of glowing gas around supernova 1987A, the nearest stellar explosion in 400 years

The long-slit spectrograph viewed the entire ring system, dissecting its light and producing a detailed image of the ring in each of its component colors [the colorful loops on the right]. Each color represents light from specific elements in the ring's gases, including oxygen [single green ring], nitrogen and hydrogen [triple-orange rings], and sulfur [double-red rings]. By dismantling the ring into its different puzzle pieces – its component elements – astronomers hope to put together a picture of how the ring was created. The picture on the left is a view of the entire supernova.