‘Webb’ reveals new structures inside an iconic supernova

The James Webb Space Telescope began the study of one of the most recognized supernovae, SN 1987A (Supernova 1987A), discovering mysterious new structures within it.

Located 168,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, SN 1987A has been the subject of intense observations at wavelengths ranging from gamma rays to radio for nearly 40 years, since its discovery in February 1987.

New observations made by NIRCam (Webb’s Near-Cam Infrared Camera) provide a crucial clue to our understanding of how a supernova develops over time to shape its remnant.

This image reveals a central structure like a keyhole. This center is filled with lumpy gases and dust ejected by the supernova explosion.

The dust is so dense that even the near-infrared light that Webb detects cannot penetrate it, forming the dark “hole” in the keyhole.

A brilliant equatorial ring encircles the inner keyhole, forming a band around the waist connecting two wispy arms of hourglass-shaped outer rings.

The equatorial ring, formed from material ejected tens of thousands of years before the supernova explosion, contains bright hot spots, which appeared when the supernova shock wave struck the ring.