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Supernova dust creation captured on film for the first time

The first verifiable evidence of the dust forming capacity of supernovas was presented by an international team of astronomers at the Jan. 6, 2014, meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

This is a composite image of supernova 1987A. ALMA data (in red) shows newly formed dust in the center of the remnant. HST (in green) and Chandra (in blue) show the expanding shockwave.
This is a composite image of supernova 1987A. ALMA data (in red) shows newly formed dust in the center of the remnant. HST (in green) and Chandra (in blue) show the expanding shockwave.Alexandra Angelich (NRAO/AUI/NSF); NASA Hubble; NASA Chandra

The Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) telescope in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile photographed the remnants of a supernova in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy orbiting the Milky Way that was first seen in 1987. The star that produced the supernova is 168,000 light-years from Earth and has been designated 1987A.

A combination of observations of the supernova event that took place at least 166,013 years ago by ALMA, the Chandra Observatory, and the Hubble Space Telescope enabled the scientists to observe the distribution of particulate debris from an exploding star for the first time.

Present observations confirm that about 25 percent of the exploding star has resulted in dust that is expanding from the point where the star once existed. The shock wave from the initial explosion of the star that created 1987A may eliminate as much as one third of the dust cloud that presently exists but the researchers believe that as much as 66 percent of the dust cloud could remain to seed interstellar space.

The new observation provides an initial confirmation of the theoretical behavior of dust when the universe first came into being.