ESO’s VLT provides first 3-D image of supernova remnant

As the BBC notes, having already observed the most massive star ever discovered ESO’s Very Large Telescope array [VLT] in Chile has now provided the first 3-D image of a supernova remnant.  The first video is an artist’s impression of the material around recently exploded star, known as Supernova 1987A [SN 1987A]. Credit ESO/L. Calçada.

From the ESO press release

Unlike the Sun, which will die rather quietly, massive stars arriving at the end of their brief life explode as supernovae, hurling out a vast quantity of material. In this class, Supernova 1987A (SN 1987A) in the rather nearby Large Magellanic Cloud occupies a very special place. Seen in 1987, it was the first naked-eye supernova to be observed for 383 years (eso8704), and because of its relative closeness, it has made it possible for astronomers to study the explosion of a massive star and its aftermath in more detail than ever before. It is thus no surprise that few events in modern astronomy have been met with such an enthusiastic response by scientists.

SN 1987A has been a bonanza for astrophysicists (eso8711 and eso0708). It provided several notable observational ‘firsts’, like the detection of neutrinos from the collapsing inner stellar core triggering the explosion, the localisation on archival photographic plates of the star before it exploded, the signs of an asymmetric explosion, the direct observation of the radioactive elements produced during the blast, observation of the formation of dust in the supernova, as well as the detection of circumstellar and interstellar material (eso0708).

New observations making use of a unique instrument, SINFONI [1], on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) have provided even deeper knowledge of this amazing event, as astronomers have now been able to obtain the first-ever 3D reconstruction of the central parts of the exploding material.

The second video zooms into images of SN 1987A as seen with ESO telescopes, and finally fades into an artist’s impression that shows the different elements present in SN 1987A: two outer rings, one inner ring and the deformed, innermost expelled material. Credit ESO.