Hubble captures new images of supernova aftermath

The Hubble Telescope keeps an eye on the remnant debris and shockwaves of a famous recent supernova:

Cosmic blast from the past

Three decades ago, a massive stellar explosion sent shockwaves not only through space but also through the astronomical community. SN 1987A was the closest observed supernova to Earth since the invention of the telescope and has become by far the best studied of all time, revolutionising our understanding of the explosive death of massive stars.

This new image of the supernova remnant SN 1987A was taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope in January 2017 using its Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). Since its launch in 1990 Hubble has observed the expanding dust cloud of SN 1987A several times and this way helped astronomers to create a better understanding of these cosmic explosions. Supernova 1987A is located in the centre of the image amidst a backdrop of stars. The bright ring around the central region of the exploded star is composed of material ejected by the star about 20 000 years before the actual explosion took place. The supernova is surrounded by gaseous clouds. The clouds’ red colour represents the glow of hydrogen gas. The colours of the foreground and background stars were added from observations taken by Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2). [Larger image.]
Located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, Supernova 1987A is the nearest supernova explosion observed in hundreds of years. It marked the end of the life of a massive star and sent out a shockwave of ejected material and bright light into space. The light finally reached Earth on 23 February 1987 — like a cosmic blast from the past.

This time-lapse video sequence, created of images taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, reveals the dramatic changes in the ring of material around the supernova 1987A. The images, taken between 1994 to 2016, show the movement of debris from the supernova within the ring. The ring, about one light-year across, also begins to brighten as the shock wave of material hits it.

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has been on the front line of observations of SN 1987A since 1990 and has taken a look at it many times over the past 27 years. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the supernova and to check how its remnant has developed, Hubble took another image of the distant explosion in January 2017, adding to the existing collection.

This montage shows the evolution of the supernova SN 1987A between 1994 and 2016, as seen by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The supernova explosion was first spotted in 1987 and is among the brightest supernova within the last 400 years. Hubble began observing the aftermath of the explosion shortly after it was launched in 1990. The growing number of bright spots on the ring was produced by an onslaught of material unleashed by the explosion. The shock wave of material hit the ring’s innermost regions, heating them up, and causing them to glow. The ring, about one light-year across, was probably shed by the star about 20,000 years before the star exploded. [Larger image.]
Because of its early detection and relative proximity to Earth, SN 1987A has become the best studied supernova ever. Prior to SN 1987A, our knowledge of supernovae was simplistic and idealised. But by studying the evolution of SN 1987A from supernova to supernova remnant in superb detail, using telescopes in space and on the ground, astronomers have gained revolutionary insights into the deaths of massive stars.

Using computer simulations astronomers can visualise the development of the supernova 1987A, from its initial blast observed three decades ago to the luminous ring of material seen today: The sequence begins with the star before it exploded. A ring of material was expelled about 20 000 years before the actual supernova happened. A flash of light indicates the actual stellar explosion which sends a shock wave outwards. As this wave slams into the ring, knots of dense material become intensely heated and glow brightly, while was with lower density is blown outward. Credit: NASA, ESA, and F. Summers and G. Bacon (STScI)

Back in 1990, Hubble was the first to see the event in high resolution, clearly imaging the main ring that blazes around the exploded star. It also discovered the two fainter outer rings, which extend like mirror images in a hourglass-shaped structure. Even today, the origin of these structures is not yet fully understood.

Astronomers combined observations from three different observatoriesto produce this multiwavelength image of the remnants of supernova SN 1987A. The red colour shows newly formed dust in the centre of the supernova remnant, taken at submillimeter wavelengths by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope in Chile. The green represents the glow of visible light, captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The blue color reveals the hottest gas and is based on data from NASA’s Chandra X-Ray observatory. The green and blue hues reveal where the expanding shock wave from the explosion is colliding with a ring of material around the supernova. This ring was initially illuminated by the ultraviolet flash from the explosion, but over the past few years the ring material has brightened considerably as it collides with the expanding shock wave. [Larger image.]
However, by observing the expanding remnant material over the years, Hubble helped to show that the material within this structure was ejected 20 000 years before the actual explosion took place. Its shape at first surprised astronomers, who expected the dying star to eject material in a spherical shape — but faster stellar winds likely caused the slower material to pile up into ring-like structures.

The initial burst of light from the supernova illuminated the rings. They slowly faded over the first decade after the explosion, until the shock wave of the supernova slammed into the inner ring in 2001, heating the gas to searing temperatures and generating strong X-ray emission. Hubble’s observations of this process shed light on how supernovae can affect the dynamics and chemistry of their surrounding environment, and thus shape galactic evolution.

This video starts with a view of the night sky as seen from the ground and zooms in onto the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. A further zoom shows the remnants of the supernova explosion 1987A, nestled between red-coloured gas, as they are seen by Hubble. The site of the supernova is surrounded by a ring of material that is illuminated by a wave of energy from the outburst. Two faint outer rings are also visible. All three of these rings existed before the explosion.Credit:  NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)


The Space Show this week – Feb.27.2017

The guests and topics of discussion on The Space Show this week:

1. Monday, Feb. 27, 2017: 2-3:30 pm PST (5-6:30 pm EST, 4-5:30 pm CST): We welcome Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ, Director, Specola, Vaticana, Vatican City State,. Brother Guy will be discussing the role of the Vatican Observatory and space.

2. Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017: 7-8:30 pm PST, 10-11:30 pm EST, 9-10:30 pm CST: Kim Holder of returns to the program with updates and new information.

3. Friday, March 3 2016: 9:30-11 am PST; (12:30-2 pm EST; 11:30 am – 1 pm CST): We welcome back Dr. Sean Casey on commercial space, Silicon Valley Space Center, and more.

4. Sunday, March 5, 2017: 12-1:30 pm PST (3-4:30 pm EST, 2-3:30 pm CST): We welcome back Chris Carberry of Explore Mars to discuss the upcoming Humans To Mars Summit event [May 9-11, Washington D.C] and more.

See also:
* The Space Show on Vimeo – webinar videos
* The Space Show’s Blog – summaries of interviews.
* The Space Show Classroom Blog – tutorial programs

The Space Show is a project of the One Giant Leap Foundation.

The Space Show - David Livingston
David Livingston

International Space Solar Power Student Project Competition

Several space organizations and advocacy groups are sponsoring a student engineering research/paper competition on the topic of space based solar power:

The International Space Solar Power Student Project Competition

The need to advance the goals of STEM (science, technology, engineering & mathematics) education is especially important in encouraging the emergence of future generations of researchers, technologists and innovators in the space sector in general, and in particular in the special fields of expertise required for the successful exploration, development and eventual settlement of space. The critical topic of Space Solar Power (SSP) – harvesting solar energy in space affordably and delivering it to markets in space and on Earth – has been studied as a vision for Humanity’s future for almost 50 years. And yet there are almost no courses (and no degrees of which we are aware) offered on this topic at either the undergraduate or the graduate levels in accredited colleges or universities.

If Space Solar Power – which is critical to space development and settlement – is to become a reality, this must change.

In a new cooperative effort, SPACE Canadai, the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) Power Committee, the Global Space Solar Power Working Group (GSSP-WG) of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), the National Space Society (NSS) International Space Development Conference (ISDC) SSP Track, and the IAF Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC; to be invited) are organizing an annual faculty advised, student-conducted international research and engineering research/paper competition on the topic of Space Solar Powerii. Upon request, additional details concerning the competition will be provided; the key points are as follows:

1. This will be an annual competition; the first year will be this year, 2017.iii

2. The purpose of the competition is to engender new, meaningful and credible student research projects in the broad field of Space Solar Power, and to support the presentation of the best of the various projects in an international forum including explicit recognition of the best research with a formal prize.

3. The International Space Solar Power Student Competition Prize will have four parts: (a) travel and registration support for selected semi-finalist teams to attend the annual ISDC (see below); (b) a formal certificate of recognition for selected semifinalist teams (as a team, and for each team member, including the faculty advisor); (c) travel and registration support for one or two selected finalist team(s) to attend the annual IAC SSP Symposium (see below); (d) a formal certificate and a plaque for the selected winning team(s) (the plaque for the team, and a certificate for each participant, including the faculty advisor).

4. The competition is open to participation by faculty-coached, student-implemented project team, including a faculty advisor, not fewer than two undergraduate students and potentially one or more graduate students from any accredited international college or university. A given project team may involve more than a single university in an integrated team; however, each team from any participating college or university must include not less than two undergraduate students and one faculty advisor.

5. The competition will involve three stages: (1) registration and proposal / abstract submission; (2) preliminary presentation of interim results at the Space Solar Power Track of the annual NSS ISDC (in late May each year); and (3) final presentation (with a formal technical paper) of the one or two best projects at the IAF Power Committee Solar Power Satellite (SPS) Symposium at the annual International Astronautical Congress (IAC) (in late September each year).

6. Semi-finalists in the annual competition will be chosen by an independent review process based on submitted abstracts and draft presentation materials; these will be provided with a fixed level of financial support for their attendance and presentation of interim results at the annual ISDC SSP Track. (Participation in the ISDC must comprise not less than one student team member and one faculty advisor; however otherwise the decision as to who should participate and how the funds should be distributed among team members to meet travel and registration costs will be flexible.)

7. Finalists in the annual competition will be chosen by an independent review process based on the presentations made at the annual ISDC SSP Track, and updated draft research presentation results. In the event that no project teams are adjudged to have achieved a sufficiently high level of technical accomplishment in a given year, no award will be made during that year.

8. The chosen winner(s) will be provided with a fixed level of financial support for their attendance and presentation of interim results at the annual IAC SPS Symposium. A formal paper is required, and must be submitted to the IAC according to the rules of the conference. (Participation in the IAC must comprise not less than one student team member and one faculty advisor; however otherwise the decision as to who should participate and how the funds should be distributed among team members to meet travel and registration costs will be flexible.)

9. In order to be eligible, members of each competing team (as described elsewhere) must be available and able to attend and present at the ISDC (semi-finalist) and the IAC (finalist).

10. The competition will encompass multiple disciplines, but will be focused each year around a particular Solar Power Satellite concept. During 2017-2018, the focus will be on highly-modular microwave wireless power transmission (WPT) Solar Power Satellite concepts as embodied in the “SPS-ALPHA” concept (Solar Power Satellite by means of Arbitrarily Large Phased Array) and related SPS architectural concepts. Details are available upon request.

11. The acceptable disciplines/fields for research projects include (a) architecture level studies; (b) end-to-end energy concepts & technology (including wireless power transmission (WPT), solar power generation, etc.); (c) structural systems, controls and dynamics technology; (d) space transportation technology and engineering for SPS (including Earth-to-orbit or in-space transportation and/or propulsion); (e) space resources utilization for SPS; (f) ground systems and integration; (g) near-term SPS system and technology demonstration concepts; and (h) space policy, legal and regulatory considerations across all of the above (including international cooperation, spectrum management, space debris, etc., etc.).

12. The first deadline for participation in the 2017 competition is the development and submission of an abstract for a proposed student research project by not later than March 29, 2017.

We look forward to the active participation by students and faculty from accredited colleges and universities globally in this new competition. If you would like to indicate interest in participating, and to obtain additional information, please contact us at the email address below.

With best regards,
John C. Mankins
Lead, International Space Solar Power Student Competition
Member of the Board, SPACE Canada
Secretary, IAF Power Committee
Co-Chair, ISDC Space Solar Power Track

For additional information, please contact us at:


i SPACE Canada is a non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Canada; the purpose of the organization is to promote international dialogue on and understanding of the topic of Space Solar Power.

ii It is anticipated that with time some organizations may be added as participants in implementing the annual competition, while others may choose not to be involved; as the foundation of the competition, SPACE Canada is the principal sponsor of the effort, and the prizes. Cooperation has been established among SPACE Canada, the IAF Power Committee, the IAF Power Committee and the ISDC SSP Track organizers. Participation by the IAF SGAC is anticipated, but must still be confirmed.

iii This competition builds upon and integrates two previous independent events: an annual SSP visualization competition held in conjunction with the NSS ISDC conference, and a yearly SSP student paper competition resulting in a paper and presentation at the annual International Astronautical Congress (IAC), organized by the IAF Power Committee and the IAF SGAC.


TRAPPIST-1 artwork and infographics  is an independent site dedicated to the  TRAPPIST-1 star system, recently discovered to have seven earth sized planets circling it, three of which are in the habitable zone (see postings here and here). The site includes a page of posters and infographics about the system created by Amanda J. Smith. Here is a sampling:

Collage 1
Orbit comparison.
Comparing area covered.
Collage 2

Everyone can participate in space