Friday, February 23, 2007

Happy Birthday, Supernova Remnant 1987A

Today marks the 20-year anniversary of the arrival of the neutrinos of SN1987A to Earth.
The defining dramatic burst of light for this explosive stelar death was first observed the following night. SN1987A is famous because it is the nearest supernova in modern times, i.e., since we started looking at such "guest stars" with telescopes and actually thinking about the associated physics. The now supernova remnant 1987A (pictured to the right when it was eight-ish years old) lives in the Large Magellenic Cloud (known to friends as the LMC), a dwarf galaxy orbiting our own Milky Way. The LMC is only 150000 or 170000 lightyears away, depending on who you ask. which is close enough to be seen with the naked eye in the Southern Hemisphere.

Even though 20 neutrinos from SN1987A were detected (and some of these are still disputed as whether or not they are "true" detections) they were heralded as undeniable proof that indeed >99% of the energy released when certain stars die is in the form of these elusive tiny neutral particles.

So: happy birthday and thank you, SN1987A for exploding and sending us some of your neutrinos and light. Astronomers across the world celebrate you this week with conferences, drinks, and cookies. We especially appreciate it seeing as how no star in our own Galaxy has been so kind in the last few centuries or so.

1 comment:

Anthony the Loser said...