Hubble space telescope observations of the SN 1987A triple ring nebula

Christopher J. Burrows, John Krist, J. Jeff Hester, Raghvendra Sahai, John T. Trauger, Karl R. Stapelfeldt, John S. Gallagher, Gilda E. Ballester, Stefano Casertano, John T. Clarke, David Crisp, Robin W. Evans, Richard E. Griffiths, John G. Hoessel, Jon A. Holtzman, Jeremy R. Mould, Paul Scowen, Alan M. Watson, James A. Westphal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

150 Scopus citations


We have observed SN 1987A with the optically corrected WFPC2 on the Hubble Space Telescope both in emission lines and in the UV and optical continuum. The previously observed outer nebular structure is shown to be part of two closed unresolved loops. These loops were flash-ionized by the supernova itself. They are not caused by limb brightening of an hourglass shell produced by the interaction of the winds from the progenitor. The inner ring is seen to be extended and may be connected to the new outer rings by sheets of material. However, beyond the outer rings, emission is not seen, implying a very low density (n < 10) for the outer hourglass shell if it exists. The new outer rings are unresolved, and this together with their observed brightness implies a density n > 1000. This density contrast of at least 100 is difficult to reconcile with the conventional picture of the progenitor evolution. Two models for the rings are presented, but each is deficient in important respects. A proper understanding of this system will require new physical insight.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)680-684
Number of pages5
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 20 1995


  • ISM: bubbles
  • ISM: jets and outflows
  • Shock waves
  • Stars: mass loss
  • Supernovae: individual (SN 1987A)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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