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No. 51: May-Jun 1987

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Supernova Problems

Everyone has been talking and writing about the new supernova, 1987A, so we might as well, too. In fact, we really must, because 1987A is more than usually anomalous. The newspapers have oohed and aahed about this rare opportunity scientists have to study a nearby supernova. However, instead of getting closer to a final understanding of supernovas, 1987A seems to be confounding the theorists.

  1. No one can determine which star, if any, blew up. The 12th magnitude star Sanduleak -69 202 was first fingered, for it is located in the proper spot. But it is still there, apparently unchanged, as is a still fainter companion. The problem is that if 1987A really originated with an even fainter star, such a star would not have enough mass to go supernova.

  2. Part of 1987A's spectrum, its luminosity evolution, and precursory neutrino burst all indicate a Type-II supernova. Unfortunately, its ultraviolet spectrum is that of a Type-I supernova. Also anomalous are its high rate of evolution and low luminosity (only magnitude 4.5 instead of the predicted 2+.

  3. Japanese apparatus located in a deep mine near Kamioka detected a burst of neutrinos about 22 hours before 1987A flared into the visible spectrum. This fits Type-II supernova theory, but the Mont Blanc equipment detected a neutrino burst just 4.6 hours before the flare-up. Which detector is correct; and why didn't both detectors register both bursts, if such there were? At the moment, some scientists think that the Mont Blanc event was spurious in view of previous unexplained bursts recorded there.

(Waldrop, M. Mitchell; "The Supernova 1987A Shows a Mint of Its Own -- and a Burst of Neutrinos," Science, 235:1322, 1987.)

Reference. See AOF5 in our catalog: Stars, Galaxies, Cosmos, for more supernova anomalies. Ordering information here.

From Science Frontiers #51, MAY-JUN 1987. 1987-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987