Evolution of the reverse shock emission from SNR 1987A

Kevin Heng, Richard McCray, Svetozar A. Zhekov, Peter M. Challis, Roger A. Chevalier, Arlin P.S. Crotts, Claes Fransson, Peter Garnavich, Robert P. Kirshner, Stephen S. Lawrence, Peter Lundqvist, Nino Panagia, C. S.J. Pun, Nathan Smith, Jesper Sollerman, Lifan Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


We present new (2004 July) G750L and G140L Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) data of the Hα and Lyα emission from supernova remnant (SNR) 1987A. With the aid of earlier data, from 1997 October to 2002 October, we track the local evolution of Lyα emission and both the local and global evolution of Hα emission. The most recent observations allow us to directly compare the Hα and Lyα emission from the same slit position and at the same epoch. Consequently, we find clear evidence that, unlike Hα, Lyα is reflected from the debris by resonant scattering, In addition to emission that we can clearly attribute to the surface of the reverse shock, we also measure comparable emission, in both Hα and Lyα, that appears to emerge from supernova debris interior to the surface. New observations taken through slits positioned slightly eastward and westward of a central slit show a departure from cylindrical symmetry in the Hα surface emission. Using a combination of old and new observations, we construct a light curve of the total Hα flux, F, from the reverse shock, which has increased by a factor of ∼4 over about 8 yr. However, due to large systematic uncertainties, we are unable to discern between the two limiting behaviors of the flux: F ∝ t (self-similar expansion) and F ∝ t 5 (halting of the reverse shock). Such a determination is important for constraining the rate of hydrogen atoms crossing the shock, which is relevant to the question of whether the reverse shock emission will vanish in ≳7 yr. Future deep, low- or moderate-resolution spectra are essential for accomplishing this task.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)959-970
Number of pages12
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 II
StatePublished - Jun 10 2006


  • Circumstellar matter
  • Shock waves
  • Supernova remnants
  • Supernovae: individual (SN 1987A)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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