A study of SN 1987A (Supernova 1987A), one of the most well-known supernovae, has started using NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Since its discovery in February 1987, SN 1987A, which is located 168,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, has been the focus of intensive investigations at wavelengths spanning from gamma rays to radio. New findings from Webb’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) offer a critical piece of information for our comprehension of how a supernova evolves over time to form its remnant.
This picture shows a keyhole-like core structure. The supernova explosion released clumpy gas and dust, which are abundant in this center. The keyhole’s dark “hole” was created by the dust, which is so dense that even the near-infrared light that Webb can see cannot pass through it.
The inner keyhole is surrounded by an equatorial ring that is bright and forms a band around the waist that joins the two faint hourglass-shaped outer ring arms. Bright hot spots can be found in the equatorial ring, which was created by material expelled tens of thousands of years prior to the supernova explosion and appeared when the shock wave from the explosion reached the ring. Now that the ring is surrounded by diffuse emission, spots can be found even outside of it. These are the places where more external material is being struck by supernova shocks.
Although NASA’s Hubble, Spitzer, and Chandra X-ray Observatory have all spotted similar structures to differing degrees, Webb’s unmatched sensitivity and spatial resolution have discovered a brand-new characteristic in this supernova remnant: minuscule crescent-shaped formations. The outermost layers of gas ejected from the supernova explosion are thought to contain these crescent-shaped objects. They may be brilliant because of limb brightening, an optical phenomena that happens when material expands in three dimensions. In other words, from our vantage point, it appears that these two crescents contain more material than they actually do.
Another interesting aspect of these photographs is their great resolution. Before Webb, this supernova was detected in infrared by the now-retired Spitzer telescope for the duration of its existence, providing important information about how its emissions changed over time. It was never able to see the supernova so clearly or in such detail, though.
The neutron star that should have emerged in the wake of the supernova explosion is one of the mysteries that have persisted through decades of research since the supernova’s first observation. Webb will keep track of the supernova over time, just as Spitzer. With the help of its MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument) and NIRSpec (Near-Infrared Spectrograph) instruments, astronomers will be able to collect new, high-fidelity infrared data throughout time and learn more about the recently discovered crescent structures. Additionally, Webb will keep working with Chandra, Hubble, and other observatories to offer fresh perspectives on the past and future of this fabled supernova.
The SN 1987A (Supernova 1987A) was visible in this in-depth photograph thanks to Webb’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera). The supernova’s expelled material creates a keyhole shape in the center. Webb has just detected weak crescents to its left and right. Bright hot spots can be seen beyond them in an equatorial ring that was created by debris ejected tens of thousands of years prior to the supernova explosion. Diffuse emission and two flimsy outer rings are present outside of that. In this figure, blue (F150W) stands for light at a wavelength of 1.5 microns, cyan (F164N, F200W), 1.64 and 2.0 microns, yellow (F323N), orange (F405N), and red (F444W).