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Super fireworks

5:20pm, September 9, 2002

Thirteen years ago, astronomers witnessed the brightest stellar explosion seen from Earth since 1604. Now, they're seeing fireworks generated as material from that explosion rams into and heats up a ring of gas surrounding the exploding star.

The spectacle, 169,000 light-years away in a galaxy called the Large Magellanic Cloud, may shed light on the nature of the original explosion, a supernova known as 1987A, as well as on its surroundings.

The orbiting Hubble Space Telescope viewed the unfolding drama on Feb. 2. It recorded four bright knots of heated gas within the ring, which had been slowly fading for a decade. The knots are regions where the blast wave, rushing out at 64 million kilometers per hour from the supernova, has smacked into the ring, heating it to

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