By Stacy Palen
Supernova 1987a may be the most well-studied supernova in history. But the “corpse” had not been found! However, this may have changed according to this article from Scientific American.
Here are some questions you can ask based on this article:
1) How long ago was this supernova first observed on Earth?
Answer: 30 years.
2) How long ago did the supernova actually occur?
Answer: 163,000 years
3) Why do astronomers typically not worry about the discrepancy between the times in question 1 and question 2?
Answer: We can’t know about anything that happens until the light gets here. As far as we are concerned, the moment we observe it IS the moment when it happened.
4) What is special about supernova 1987a?
Answer: Supernova 1987a is so unusually close that we can see it in detail, and watch it evolve in real time. It is also the first supernova observed for which we had seen the progenitor star.
5) Why had astronomers argued that a neutron star (as opposed to, say, a black hole) should result from this supernova?
Answer: The progenitor star was about 20 solar masses. This is in the range between 8 and 25 solar masses, which is expected to result in a neutron star.
6) What is the evidence that has been presented for the detection of a neutron star?
Answer: A bright blob within a dense dust blob.
7) What will astronomers do to strengthen their conclusions from this evidence?
Answer: Get more data, of course!