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Young Supernova Blast Wave Visible for First Time.

Images from NASA's Chandra x-ray observatory ( photo/cycle1/sn1987a), one in October 1999, the other in January 2000, show the full impact of the blast wave from supernova 1987A (SN1987A). The observations are the first time that x-rays from a shock wave have been imaged at such an early stage of a supernova explosion.

Recent optical observations with the Hubble Space Telescope revealed gradually brightening hot spots from a ring of matter that was ejected from the star thousands of years before it exploded. This ring is being heated by a shock wave that is crashing into portions of the ring at a speed of 4,500 kilometers/sec. The colors represent different intensities of x-ray emission, with white being the brightest. The gas behind the shock wave is visible only with an x-ray telescope, and has a temperature of about 10 million degrees.

"With Hubble we heard the whistle from the oncoming train," says David Burrows of Pennsylvania State Univ., University Park, the leader of the team of scientists analyzing the Chandra data on SN 1987A. "Now, with Chandra, we can see the train."

The x-ray observations concur with the general outlines of a model developed by team member Richard McCray of the Univ. of Colorado, Boulder, and others, which states that a shock wave has been moving out ahead of the debris that was expelled by the explosion. As the shock wave collides with the material outside the ring, it heats it to millions of degrees.

NASA Working to Keep the Stars Within Our Reach

In an ongoing effort to explore our solar system, researchers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. (, are developing a hull-puncture repair kit designed to seal punctures up to 10 cm dia from collisions with small meteoroids or space debris. Intended for use on the International Space Station, the kit will enable crewmembers to safely repair punctures from outside modules that have lost atmospheric pressure.

A hole as small as 2.54 cm dia in a vehicle the size of the Space Station could bleed off enough air in just one hour to put the crew at risk. The patching operation would require two spacewalks to repair the damage--one to locate the puncture on the exterior and a second to deliver the patch kit to the work site and seal the hole.

NASA is also working on technology that will travel beyond the solar system. Proposed to launch around 2010, an interstellar probe will be powered by the fastest spacecraft ever flown (traveling nearly 93 km/sec). The probe will travel over 37 billion km past the edge of the solar system. To reduce the weight caused by fuel, thin reflective sails could be deployed in space and propelled by rays of light from the sun.

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Title Annotation:supernova 1987A
Publication:R & D
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:May 1, 2000
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