Heart of an exploded star observed in 3-D
Supernovas are the violent endings of the brief yet brilliant lives of massive stars and are among the most cataclysmic events in the cosmos. Though supernovas mark the death of stars, they also trigger the birth of new elements and the formation of new molecules. Recently, astronomers used the Atacama Large
Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to probe the heart of this supernova, named SN 1987A. ALMA’s ability to see remarkably fine details allowed the researchers to produce an intricate 3-D rendering of newly formed molecules inside the supernova remnant. These results are published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters
The researchers also discovered a variety of previously undetected molecules in the remnant. These results appear in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Prior to ongoing investigations of SN 1987A,
there was only so much astronomers could say about the impact of supernovas on their interstellar neighborhoods. It was well understood that massive stars, those approximately 10 times the mass of our sun or more, ended their lives in spectacular fashion.
When these stars run out of fuel, there is no longer enough heat and energy to fight back against the force of gravity. The outer reaches of the star,
once held up by the power of fusion, then come crashing down on the core with tremendous force. The rebound of this collapse triggers a powerful explosion that blasts material into space.