The Axisymmetric Ejecta of Supernova 1987A Academic Article uri icon


  • Extensive early observations proved that the ejecta of supernova 1987A (SN 1987A) are aspherical. The most important of these early observations include (1) the "Bochum event" that revealed small-scale spectroscopic structure indicating chemical inhomogeneities of the ejecta, (2) spectropolarimetry that showed deviations from spherical symmetry, and (3) speckle observations that revealed both the asymmetry of the ejecta and the "mystery spot" manifested as a secondary source off center from the bulk of the supernova ejecta. Fifteen years after the supernova explosion, the Hubble Space Telescope has resolved the rapidly expanding ejecta. The late-time images and spectroscopy provide a geometrical picture that is consistent with early observations and suggests a highly structured, axially symmetric geometry. We present here a new synthesis of the old and new data. We show that the Bochum event, presumably a clump of 56Ni, and the late-time image, the locus of excitation by 44Ti, are most naturally accounted for by sharing a common position angle of about 14, the same as the mystery spot and early speckle data on the ejecta, and that they are both oriented along the axis of the inner circumstellar ring at 45 to the plane of the sky. We also demonstrate that the polarization represents a prolate geometry with the same position angle and axis as the early speckle data and the late-time image, and hence that the geometry has been fixed in time and throughout the ejecta. The Bochum event and the Doppler kinematics of the [Ca II]/[O-II] emission in spatially resolved Hubble Space Telescope spectra of the ejecta can be consistently integrated into this geometry. The radioactive clump is deduced to fall approximately along the axis of the inner circumstellar ring and therefore to be redshifted in the north, whereas the [Ca II]/[O II] 7300 emission is redshifted in the south. We present a jet-induced model for the explosion and argue that such a model can account for many of the observed asymmetries. In the jet models, the oxygen and calcium are not expected to be distributed along the jet but primarily in an expanding torus that shares the plane and northern blue shift of the inner circumstellar ring.

published proceedings

  • The Astrophysical Journal

altmetric score

  • 3

author list (cited authors)

  • Wang, L., Wheeler, J. C., Hoflich, P., Khokhlov, A., Baade, D., Branch, D., ... Suntzeff, N. B.

citation count

  • 136

complete list of authors

  • Wang, L||Wheeler, JC||Hoflich, P||Khokhlov, A||Baade, D||Branch, D||Challis, P||Filippenko, AV||Fransson, C||Garnavich, P||Kirshner, RP||Lundqvist, P||McCray, R||Panagia, N||Pun, CSJ||Phillips, MM||Sonneborn, G||Suntzeff, NB

publication date

  • November 2002