Supernova 1987A and the Tarantula nebula in the LMC
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Supernova 1987A and the Tarantula nebula in the LMC
Top left is NE. Image width is about 40 arcmin
Image and text © 2000-2010, Australian Astronomical Observatory
Photograph from UK Schmidt plates by David Malin.

In this picture we see the eastern end of the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) where lies one of the most active star formation regions known. If this enormous complex of stars, gas and dust were at the distance of the better-known Orion Nebula the brightest parts of it would visible during the day and would cover a quarter of the sky at night. It is surrounded by a field of massive, young stars. It should not have been a surprise as to what happened next, but it was.

On 27 February, 1987, a supernova appeared in this part of the sky, the first naked eye supernova to be seen for almost 400 years. It galvanised all southern hemisphere observatories into immediate action, and carefully planned observing schedules were rapidly revised to include this remarkable and completely unexpected event. The photographs above are of the part of the sky around the Tarantula nebula, and show the sky before (4 April, 1976) and a week after (5 March 1987) the supernova appeared, as photographed by the UK Schmidt telescope.

Related images
AAT 48.   The Tarantula Nebula and supernova 1987a in the Large Magellanic Cloud
AAT 48b.  The Tarantula Nebula in the LMC, before and after supernova SN1987A
AAT 49.   The Tarantula Nebula in the LMC, before supernova SN1987A
AAT 50.   Supernova 1987A, before and after images
AAT 66.   The light echo of supernova 1987A
AAT 67.   Supernova 1987a after 4 years
UKS 14.   The Large Magellanic Cloud
UKS 14a. The eastern end of the Large Magellanic Cloud
UKS 15.   The 30 Doradus Nebula in the LMC
Constellation of Dorado (external site)

For details of object position and photographic exposure, search technical table by UKS reference number.

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Updated by David Malin, 2010, July 25