On the Scene | Science News

Support Science Journalism

Science News is a nonprofit.

Support us by subscribing now.

On the Scene

On the Scene

On the Scene

The stories of supernova 1987A, as told by Science News

Thirty years after its explosion was observed on Earth, supernova 1987A is still visible, as seen in this Hubble Space Telescope image from January. Astronomers caught their first glimpse of the stellar explosion in the wee hours of February 24, 1987, and in the last three decades, Science News has reported several stories on the explosion and the discoveries that came from it.

Sponsor Message

The planning for our supernova special issue began months ago. In one early meeting, astronomy writer Christopher Crockett lit up as he told the story of the night supernova 1987A was discovered. The account has all the ingredients of a blockbuster. There’s a struggle (with an observatory door), the element of surprise (an unexpected burst on a photographic plate), disbelief (by our protagonist and a collaborator), a scramble (to figure out how to report the discovery of the supernova), and an action scene that seems impossibly quaint: A driver races to the nearest town 100 kilometers away to send a telegram and alert the world that 166,000 light-years away, a star has exploded.  

That story opens Crockett’s feature article commemorating the 30th anniversary of the supernova’s discovery. And we’ve brought it to life in video form as well. Ian Shelton, the telescope operator who spotted 1987A on a three-hour exposure he took of the Large Magellanic Cloud, was kind enough to consult with us for the video. He stars in it in clay form, and his voice makes a few guest appearances too.

Our anniversary coverage of 1987A offers a great summary of the importance of the discoveries that came from the stellar explosion. But Science News has been telling the story of SN 1987A for years. In fact, we began telling its story just days after the discovery. News of the explosion reached the International Astronomical Union on a Tuesday; on Wednesday, the day we went to press, Science News editors slipped a mention of it into that week's issue. The following week's issue carried a full story. Dozens more followed. We’ve pulled many of those together in the timeline below, which includes links to PDFs of the original magazine articles. Happy reading!

Humans & Society

Nobelists advise budding scientists

By Laura Sanders 10:27am, May 11, 2011
Laureates share unconventional wisdom with young investigators at Intel ISEF 2011.

BLOG: City of Angels welcomes the world’s biggest global science fair

By Laura Sanders 4:52pm, May 9, 2011
Hundreds of young scientists arrive for the start of the 2011 Intel ISEF competition in Los Angeles.
Humans & Society

Intel Science Talent Search finalists reflect on their week in D.C.

By Laura Sanders 6:14pm, March 15, 2011
Intel Science Talent Search finalists visit President Obama and members of Congress in prelude to announcement of top prize winners.
Humans & Society

Justifying research, basic or otherwise

By Laura Sanders 11:47am, February 21, 2011
A neuroscience panel at the annual AAAS meeting is asked to weigh in on the value of curiosity-driven, versus applied, investigations
Psychology,, Humans & Society

Sometimes, happiness is for bozos

By Bruce Bower 1:13pm, February 2, 2011
Despite its benefits, happiness and its pursuit has risks, as writer Bruce Bower describes in a humorous report from the recent meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.
Genes & Cells,, Earth & Environment,, Atom & Cosmos

Three scientists, three wishes (with extras for the cosmologist)

By Tom Siegfried 5:32pm, November 8, 2010
Research luminaries reveal the questions they'd most like to see answered.

Don't forget beauty

By Elizabeth Quill 3:46pm, November 8, 2010
An ornithologist argues that arbitrary preferences may have a place in the bird world.
Life & Evolution,, Genes & Cells,, Body & Brain

Soil search suggests broad roots for antibiotic resistance

By Tina Hesman Saey 3:39pm, November 8, 2010
Drug-defeating genes are everywhere, but don’t blame dirt-dwelling bacteria for resistance seen in the clinic.
Humans & Society,, Climate

Climate researcher speaks out

By Alexandra Witze 10:17pm, November 7, 2010
BLOG: Michael Mann says scientists have lost control of the public message about climate change, Alexandra Witze reports from the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing meeting.
Subscribe to RSS - On the Scene