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17 April 2014 12:48 pm ,
Vol. 344 ,
Officials last week revealed that the U.S. contribution to ITER could cost $3.9 billion by 2034—roughly four times the...
An experimental hepatitis B drug that looked safe in animal trials tragically killed five of 15 patients in 1993. Now,...
Using the two high-quality genomes that exist for Neandertals and Denisovans, researchers find clues to gene activity...
A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that humanity has done little to slow...
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a red dwarf—a star cooler than the sun—500...
Three years ago, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University proposed that a warming Arctic was altering the behavior of the...
- 17 April 2014 12:48 pm , Vol. 344 , #6181
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Hubble Spies a Ring of Fire
18 February 2000 7:00 pm
The Hubble Space Telescope has taken a close-up look at a strange event in the aftermath of a supernova: the sudden brightening of a huge gas ring that circles the exploding star. Astronomers think the ring is flaring up as it is smashed by debris from the immense explosion.
The 1987 supernova, which occurred a mere 170,000 light-years from Earth, was the first that could be studied in detail with modern telescopes. In 1989, astronomers discovered that a gas ring surrounds the exploding star at a distance of about 2 light-years; 5 years later, the Hubble Space Telescope discovered two other rings, larger but somewhat fainter, placed in two equidistant planes behind and in front of the star. The rings probably escaped from the star some 20,000 years before it exploded, but it's still unclear how that happened, says Dick McCray of the University of Colorado, Boulder.
In December, a team at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in La Serena, Chile, first noticed that the central ring was lighting up in the infrared-spectrum. Shortly after, astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope reported seeing the same spectacle at visible wavelengths. The brightening occurs as remnants of the supernova collide with the ring, causing tremendous shock waves and heating the gas to millions of degrees, says CTIO's Patrice Bouchet.
Closer scrutiny may shed more light on the ring's origins, says his colleague Arlin Crotts, and scientists may glean even more information as the debris from the blast keeps spreading. "The shock wave is going to stop for a while at this dense ring," says Crotts, "but it's going to continue to move above and below the ring, and keep running into things."