35 years since the discovery of Supernova 1987A

Stars have a life cycle, and their end depends mainly on their initial mass. One of these endings is supernovae, highly energetic events that cause the parent star to disappear.

Image of the starburst, taken by Oscar Duhalde.

Image of the starburst, taken by Oscar Duhalde.

Thirty-five years ago, on the night of February 24, 1987, astronomer Ian Shelton and Instrument and Operations Specialist Oscar Duhalde discovered a bright supernova in the Large Magellanic Cloud while observing at Las Campanas Observatory (LCO). This supernova, one of the most important discoveries in modern astronomy and named SN 1987A, was the closest such object seen since the invention of the telescope, and its brightness made it possible to observe it with the naked eye. 

Although he was at the observatory, Ian Shelton became the first person to detect a supernova without a telescope by attempting to corroborate with the naked eye what was seen in one of the routine exposures of the Large Magellanic Cloud. No naked-eye observation had been made since Johannes Kepler in 1604.

The expanding remnants of SN 1987A are still visible. Since that time, this supernova has become one of the most studied to understand this type of celestial phenomena.

Ian Shelton is currently a professor at several universities in Toronto, and Oscar Duhalde recently retired after working 43 years at Las Campanas Observatory.

If you want to know more about this type of astronomical object, we invite you to watch the fifth chapter of the LCO series Navigators of the Southern Sky, which deals with Supernovae.


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