Thirteen years ago, astronomers witnessed the brightest stellar explosion seen from Earth since the invention of the telescope. A supernova—the violent death of a massive star—had erupted in the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy, only 160,000 light-years away. Because of the galaxy's proximity, scientists have had a field day tracking the unfolding saga of supernova 1987A.
Now, astronomers have for the first time imaged the full force of the shock wave hurled from the supernova. NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has detected the gas surrounding the exploded star heated to 10 million kelvins by the shock wave's passage. The speeding wave is plowing into a ring of debris cast out by the star some 20,000 years before it exploded.
The Hubble Space Telescope had previously imaged hot