Hubble Space TelescopeObservations of HighVelocity Ly and H Emission from Supernova Remnant 1987A: The Structure and Development of the Reverse Shock Academic Article uri icon


  • We present two-dimensional line profiles of high-velocity (12,000 km s-1) Ly and H emission from supernova remnant 1987A obtained with the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph between 1997 September and 2001 September (days 3869-5327 after the explosion). This emission comes from hydrogen in the debris that is excited and ionized as it passes through the remnant's reverse shock. We use these profiles to measure the geometry and development of the reverse-shock surface. The observed emission is confined within 30 about the remnant's equatorial plane. At the equator, the reverse shock has a radius of 75% of the distance to the equatorial ring. We detect marginal differences (6% 3%) between the location of the reverse-shock front in the northeast and southwest parts of the remnant. The radius of the reverse shock surface increases for latitudes above the equator, a geometry consistent with a model in which the supernova debris expands into a bipolar nebula. Assuming that the outer supernova debris has a power-law density distribution, we can infer from the reverse-shock emission light curve an expansion rate (in the northeast part of the remnant) of 3700 900 km s-1, consistent with the expansion velocities determined from observations in radio (Manchester et al.) and X-ray (Park et al.; Michael et al.) wavelengths. However, our most recent observation (at day 5327) suggests that the rate of increase of mass flux across the northeast sector of the reverse shock has accelerated, perhaps because of deceleration of the reverse shock caused by the arrival of a reflected shock created when the blast wave struck the inner ring. Resonant scattering within the supernova debris causes Ly photons created at the reverse shock to be directed preferentially outward, resulting in a factor of 5 difference in the observed brightness of the reverse shock in Lya between the near and far sides of the remnant. Accounting for this effect, we compare the observed reverse-shock Ly and H fluxes to infer the amount of interstellar extinction by dust as E(B - V) = 0.17 0.01 mag. We also notice extinction by dust in the equatorial ring with E(B - V) 0.02-0.08 mag, which implies dust-to-gas ratios similar to that of the LMC. Since H photons are optically thin to scattering, the observed asymmetry in brightness of H from the near and far sides of the remnant represents a real asymmetry in the mass flux through the reverse shock of 30%. We discuss future observational strategies that will permit us to further investigate the reverse-shock dynamics and resonant scattering of the Ly line and to constrain better the extinction by dust within and in front of the remnant.

published proceedings

  • The Astrophysical Journal

author list (cited authors)

  • Michael, E., McCray, R., Chevalier, R., Filippenko, A. V., Lundqvist, P., Challis, P., ... Wheeler, J. C.

publication date

  • January 1, 2003 11:11 AM