NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has revealed stunning new details of a famous supernova remnant.
Webb revealed a keyhole shape in the middle of the star explosion remnant, as well as new crescents and pearls.
NASA's powerful James Webb Space Telescope has once again blown away its predecessor, the Hubble telescope, by capturing a new image of an iconic supernova remnant in the greatest detail yet.
Supernova 1987A was first discovered in 1987, as its name suggests. A supergiant star exploded, creating a brilliant flash of light. That light faded over several days and ultimately left behind a ring of gas and dust astronomers see today.
The new image, below, shows better than ever that the supernova remnant's center has a structure shaped like a keyhole, visible in blue.
The dark "hole" in the center of it is an area so packed with clumps of gas and dust — material ejected by the dying star when it exploded — that even the near-infrared light Webb is capturing can't pierce through.
Hubble picked up on that keyhole structure a bit, but its best attempt kind of looks like a blurry UFO in a '70s movie.
That 2019 image, below, involved collaboration with two other telescopes: the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and the Chandra X-ray Observatory.
Hubble had also spotted the supernova remnant from a distance.
Thanks to the new image's unprecedented resolution, Webb has revealed a couple of features in the supernova remnant that astronomers couldn't previously see. They could offer clues as to how the supernova has evolved over time.
Webb spotted 2 features in the supernova that Hubble missed
The pearl-like ring of bubbles of light surrounding the supernova's center is called its "equatorial ring." Those hotspots formed when the supernova's shockwave slammed into the equatorial ring of gas the star had ejected tens of thousands of years before it exploded, NASA said. Hubble captured that pretty well.
What Hubble missed, though, is a faint outer ring with more of these bright hotspots surrounding the entire cloud of the Supernova 1987A remnant.
Webb has also revealed new crescent-like structures within the remnant that Hubble didn't notice.
NASA believes the crescents, shown in the image above, are the outer layers of gas that propelled out during the supernova explosion. And they may create somewhat of an optical illusion.
"In other words, our viewing angle makes it appear that there is more material in these two crescents than there actually may be," NASA wrote in its press release about the new photo.
"Despite the decades of study since the supernova's initial discovery, there are several mysteries that remain, particularly surrounding the neutron star that should have been formed in the aftermath of the supernova explosion," NASA wrote in its press release, adding that Webb will continue observing it.
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