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Hubble Telescope "Resolves" Supernova Mystery

The spiral galaxy NGC 6946 (lower left, shown in a false color ground-based image) lies at a distance of 17 million light years. Adjacent to it's bright northern spiral arm is a bright point-like source with characteristics of an extremely bright remnant of a supernova explosion. But astronomers have learned that the object actually is debris from two or more supernovas slamming together in a cosmic collision.

The Hubble Space Telescope Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 image of the region, shown at upper right, resolves the source into several interlocking loops of emission. Most of the light comes from a small crescent of emission at the lower right in the Hubble image, where the expanding shell from a relatively recent supernova explosion is plowing into an older, larger shell from a previous explosion. Astronomers have never seen this phase of such an interaction directly.

This material was presented to the American Astronomical Society meeting in Winston-Salem, NC, on June 10, 1997.

Image credits: Lower left: William Blair (The Johns Hopkins University) and NOAO/Kitt Peak National Observatory. Upper right: William Blair, JHU.

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