The reverse shock of SNR 1987A at 18 years after outburst

Nathan Smith, Svetozar A. Zhekov, Kevin Heng, Richard Mccray, Jon A. Morse, Mike Gladders

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


We use low-dispersion spectra obtained at the Magellan Observatory to study the broad Hα emission from the reverse shock of the infant supernova remnant SNR 1987A. These spectra demonstrate that the spatiokinematic structure of the reverse shock can be distinguished from that of the circumstellar ring and hot spots, even at ground-based spatial resolution. We measure a total dereddened Hα flux of 1.99(±0.22) × 10-13 ergs s-1 cm-2 at an epoch 18.00 yr after outburst. At 50 kpc, the total reverse shock luminosity in Hα is roughly 15 L, which implies a total flux of neutral hydrogen atoms across the reverse shock of 8.9 × 1046 s1, or roughly 2.3 × 10 -3 M yr-1. This represents an increase by a factor of ∼4 since 1997. Lyman continuum radiation from gas shocked by the forward blast wave can ionize neutral hydrogen atoms in the supernova debris before they reach the reverse shock. If the inward flux of ionizing photons exceeds the flux of hydrogen atoms approaching the reverse shock, this preionization will shut off the broad Lyα and Haα emission. The observed X-ray emission of SNR 1987A implies that the ratio of ionizing flux to hydrogen atom flux across the reverse shock is presently at least 0.04. The X-ray emission is increasing much faster than the flux of atoms, and if these trends continue, we estimate that the broad Lyα and Hα emission will vanish in ≤7 yr.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)L41-L44
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 II
StatePublished - Dec 10 2005


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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'The reverse shock of SNR 1987A at 18 years after outburst'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this