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No. 95: Sep-Oct 1994

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"AN UNPRECEDENTED AND BIZARRE OBJECT"

So said C. Burrows, codiscoverer of this new cosmic conundrum. The instigator of all the astronomical head scratching is our old friend Supernova 1987A, the subject of several past SF items. This time, the anomalies are associated with three bright rings now gracing 1987A's environs. The thin, dense, elliptical inner ring, the first to be noted, has always been a puzzle. Its diameter suggests that it was probably created about 30,000 years before 1987A blew up. But what is it? Its existence is hard to explain, as N. Panagia has confirmed:

"The presence of a dense, thin, ring surrounding a massive star at the end of its evolution is not easy to account for."

In other words, this ring is foreign to mainstream astronomical theory.

Now, with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope, two additional faint rings near 1987A have been detected. One seems to be the mirror image of the other. The bizarre part is that they are not centered on 1987A at all, like the ring mentioned above. One of the new rings seems to be in front of 1987A, the other in back -- but this is a subjective call. Speculation is rampant, and all three rings are enigmatic. Is 1987A blowing out rings of matter front and back?

(Panagia, Nino; "Origins Revealed in Demise," Nature, 369:354, 1994. Cowen, R.; "Mysterious Rings Surround Supernova," Science News, 145:340, 1994.)

From Science Frontiers #95, SEP-OCT 1994. 1994-2000 William R. Corliss