Twenty years ago, astronomers witnessed one of the brightest stellar explosions in more than 400 years. The titanic supernova, which actually blew up about 161,000 B.C., blazed with the power of 100 million suns for several months following its discovery on Feb. 23, 1987. The star (called SN 1987A) is 163,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud.
Studying supernovae like SN 1987A is important because the exploding stars create elements, such as carbon and iron, that make up new stars, galaxies, and even humans. The iron in a person's blood, for example, was manufactured in supernova explosions. SN 1987A ejected 20,000 Earth masses of radioactive iron. The core of the shredded star is now glowing because of radioactive titanium that was cooked up in the explosion.
The star is 163,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud. It actually blew up about 161,000 B.C., but its light arrived here in 1987.
There are mysterious triple rings of glowing gas and powerful blasts sent out from the explosion that are just having an impact now, 20 years later. Posted by Casey Kazan.