John Pazmino
 NYSkies Astronomy Inc
 1987 June 1

    Until February of 1987 the closest and best observed supernova was 
Tycho's star of 1572. In fact, altho partly as a gag, the textbook for 
astronomers entering the study of supernovae was 'De stella nova' by 
Tycho himself!
    On the day after SN1987A burst out in the Large Magellanic Cloud I 
was at work perusing a book on -- I'm not kidding! -- supernovae. 
Among its hopes was that someday there could be a nearby supernova in our 
own galaxy for detailed study with modern instruments. 
    My desk phone rang. I answered it to hear an alert from an 
astronomy colleague about the eruption. I with other City astronomers 
followed the news of the supernova thru magazine and journal articles. 
Some of us  went to southern hemisphere locations to observe the star 
    I collect here a few of my articles about supernova SN1987A that 
illustrate the excitement and science in it. Minor editing was done 
and the date of the first one is the issue date for this file. 

 1987 June 1

    That's one major question in astronomy. Stars supposedly emit 
neutrinos along with the visible radiation. It's commonly taken that 
the neutrino has no mass and it travels at the speed of light. 
    But what if the neutrino has a small. tho nonzero mass? Well, 
with their stupendous numbers supposedly pervading all space like 
starlight their individually infinitesimal masses would accumulate to 
a vast amount. Enough. according to some theorists. to solve the 
question of the "missing mass", 
    There appears to a stability in galaxy clusters. a nonKepler 
velocity-vs-radius function in galaxies. and a closure of space 
curvature that cannot be explained from the mass we do see. That may 
be the luminous (video and radio) matter locked up in the galaxies. 
    Indeed. so poor is our grasp of the "missing mass" that its 
speculative composition could range from, cold dark stars to massy 
neutrinos -- which covers a lot of prospects! 
    Now neutrinos are also supposed to burst out of a supernova along 
with the light emission. Massless neutrinos would travel at the speed 
of light and arrive at Earth coincidentially with the light, provided 
the two were emitted simultaneously. Massy neutrinos. however. 
travelling less than lightspeed. would lag the light in arrival. 
    We have our supernova, that in the Large Magellanic Cloud. And, 
lo!, the Kamiokande and Morton-Thiokol nuclear labs did record bursts 
of neutrinos! And physicists are certain these came from this very 
supernova! In principle, by clocking the arrival of the neutrinos and 
the light we can weigh the neutrino. 
    AAAer Robert Moniot. physics professor at Fordham University, 
furnished the derivation of a formula for the neutrino mass, given the 
light travel time to the source and the lag time of the neutrinos 
behind the light. The derivation. omitted here. essentially splits the 
measured total energy of the arriving neutrino into its restmass and 
relativistic kinetic energy. 
    Since in relativity mass and energy are equated thru the square of 
the lightspeed, mass is commonly expressed in electronvolts, One 
electronvolt is 1.7827e-26 kilogram. By comparison an electron 
restmass is 511,OOOeV or 9.1095e-31Kg 
     Moniot's formula is:
    m * c ^ 2 = E * sqr(2 * delT / T), 
    m*c~2, restmass, eV   
    E, neutrino energy. eV
    delT, dispersion of arrival times, s
    T, light tine to source, s
    There are two immense unknowns. T and delT, E was measured fairly 
well by the labs as the tripping point of their detectors. Prof Moniot 
notes that 10MeV is typical for neutrino receivers nowadays. 
    What is the lighttime to the supernova? It's the distance to the 
star in light travel units, as LY. Astronomers so far are assuming the 
star is actually in the LMC, 163.000 LY away. They don't know this for 
certain, tho  After all, it is so misbehaving that we can not gage its 
dIstance against other normal supernovae. 
    The delT at presstime is still loosely determined. The two nuclear 
labs did clock in the neutrinos, but when did the light get here? No 
one caught the supernova in the act of erupting in light and later 
reports show that the star sort of swelled up slowly with no sharp 
outburst. And. with this star a nonconforming one, we can not cycle 
back the postnova observations to the point of flareup. 
    About all we can definitely say right now is that the neutrinos 
arrived at Earth within hours of the light and that they are, hence, 
thoroly relatiVIstic particles. 
    AAAer Sandra Schwarz. astronomy professor at the New School. 
brought our attention to an other complication. Supernova theories 
generally have the neutrinos blow out during the initial core collapse 
and the light flares out a mite later. The neutrinos have a headstart 
over the light of order one hour. Thus delT is the dispersion of 
arrival times minus the neutrino headstart. 
    What this headstart may be is unknown in the LMC specimen. We can 
not offhandedly apply a stock model to such an abnormal star. 
    What to do? Considering that in the closing years of the 20th 
century still the primer for supernova specialists is "De Stella Nova" 
by Tycho Brahe', we have to make guesses, hopefully good ones. 
    Let the star be in the Cloud, so T is 163,000 years or about 
5e12s. E is 10MeV, the typical trigger setting for receivers. 
    deIT remains the grand unknown, Never the less, from the 
discussion above, delT can surely not be more than one full day and 
could plausibly be identically zero, 
    Plugging these values into the restmass formula, we have: 
    deIT, cust |  0  | 1 sec   | 1 min | 1 hr  | 1 day 
    deIT, s    |  0  |     1   |    60 |  3600 | 86400
    m*c"2, eV  |  0  |     6.3 |    49 |   378 |  1852
    neut/elect |  0  | 81111   | 10429 |  1352 |   276
    From studies of large galaxies. for example, the neutrino restmass 
probably can not excede 50eV, The basis for this is the orbital 
velocity-vs-radius curve for the galaxy. If the mass were confined to 
the visible envelope of the galaxy, particles (stars!) far from the 
center would have velocities approximating to Kepler's. They do not. 
    The velocity is more or less constant at large radii, as if there 
were mass distributed in shells far beyond the visible zone. This is 
one indicator that the universe is laden with "missing mass", 
    If this mass be in clouds of neutrinos, the plausible numbers and 
density to reproduce the velocity curve points to a neutrino restmass 
of 50eV at most, 
    The LMC experience does not violate this restmass limit, but it 
certainly does not prove or confirm it, We have no firm conclusion. 
All we can say for now is that neutrino mass allowed by the ambiguities 
in T and delT embrace that mass called for by the galactic (and other) 
missing mass scenarios. 

 1987 December 1 

    The supernova continues to astound astronomers. amateur  and 
career alike. with its antics in the LMC. Its latest doings were 
summarized by Dr Robert Kirshner of CfA on 24 October 1987 at the 
[AAVSO] convention. Dr Kirshner's commentary here is supplemented by 
discussions I had with him and other astronomers after that talk. 
    The prenoval and transnaval phases of the star are firmly 
chronicled now. Photos of the LMC were unearthed to document the 
absence of the supernova before 09:30UT on 23 February 1987 and 
there's a visual account of the star on the rise. being about 6th 
magnitude, at 10:38UT that same day. From these (and other) datapoints 
the star turned from utter obscurity to king of the LMC in something 
like one hour! The increase of light. from prenoval 12th magnitude to 
4th. was only about 1600-fold. much less than expected for a "regular" 
supernova. Never the less. if the star were in our Milky Way. say 500 
parsecs away. it would shine at magnitude -6, easily  casting shadows 
on the Earth at night! 
    Now the nailing down of the light outburst in time makes the 
neutrino-vs-light experiment tenable. The several neutrino monitors 
caught a neutrino burst at 7:35UT on the 23rd, two hours before the 
visual eruption. Kirshner explained that this lead of the neutrino 
arrival over the light is substantially due to the expulsion of 
neutrinos from the star several hours prior to the flashout of light. 
Hence, recalling my article here in June 1987, the neutrino's mass is 
quite. if not identically. zero. 
    By the way. Kirshner noted that the Kamiokande lab caught 11 
neutrinos in 12 seconds. Given the sheer inertness of neutrinos 
against matter and the efficacy of the monitors. this is equivalent to 
about 100 trillion neutrinos per square meter! To visualize 1his 
number, image all the stars of 1000 Milky Ways whizzing thru the top 
of a cardtable in 12 seconds. 
    Separately, since particulate irradiation can cause biological 
damage. I heard that the NYC Health Dept informally guesstimates that 
the supernova's neutrino blast could induce 1000 new cancer cases in 
the present human population. 
    The overall lightcurve is well determined; see Figure 1 [ASCII 
substitute here]. adapted from Kirshner's viewgraphs. The star blew up 
rather instantly. subsided briefly. then soared in brightness for 
three months. It culminated on May 22 at 2.9 magnitude. From this peak 
the star faded rapidly until June 24. Since then the decline has been 
strictly exponential at 1 full magnitude over 125 days. That is, it is 
losing half of its remaining light every 94 days or its decay halflife 
is 94 days. 
    2.0 +--+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+ +-------------------+ 
        |                                     | | Sanduleak -69o202 | 
    2.5 +                                     + | ----------------- | 
  a     |                 +-2.9, 22 May       | | Spectrum  B3-I    | 
  p 3.0 +                / \                  + | Temp      15,000K | 
  p     |              /    \                 | | Mass (MS) ~20 Sun | 
    3.5 +            /      \                 + | Lum  ~100.000 Sun | 
  m     |          /         \                | +-------------------+ 
  a 4.0 +        /            +-4.0, 24 Jun   +        figure 2 
  g     |  +- 4.2, 24 Feb        \            | 
  m 4.5 +  |\/                     |\         + 
        |  |              HL=94d---|   \      | 
    5.0 +  |                       +----- \   + 
        |  |                     5.2, 27 Oct-\| 
    5.5 +  |                                  + 
        |  |                                  | 
    6.0 +--+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+ 
           0    33   67  100  133  167  200  233 
                days since eruption 
                          figure 1 
    The identity of the prenatal supernova seems positive. It is
Sanduleak -69o202. a 12th magnitude speck among equal and greater 
specks in a congested quarter of the LMC. The vital statistics of this 
star are in Figure 2 [ASCII substitute here]. it is (was!) a 
blue supergiant crossing leftward at the upper end of the main 
sequence. It arrived there from a previous redgiant state and sits on 
the track of a star of main sequence mass 20 Suns. 
    Dr Kirshner explained that from the density and velocity of the 
star's expanding shell about 3 Suns of mass were exploded out. From 
the quality and quantity of radiant energy about 6 Suns are left in 
the core. now a nascent neutron star. Thus. the Sanduleak star was of 
9 Suns mass -- where are the missing 11 Suns??. 
    Stellar modeling shows that a redgiant sheds mass. This mass loss 
was formerly thought quite modest, in some books only a few tenths 
solar mass. Laterly the thought leans toward a prodigious mass loss. a 
sizable part of the star. But. could Sanduleak -69o202 have shed 55% 
of its mass? 
    It sure looks that way since the amount of loss in the models is 
imprecise and the Sanduleak star had no assessed mass for its prenoval 
state. This supernova is a rare case of directly gaging a star's mass 
after it leaves the redgiant phase. 
    When the star supernovated it produced neutrinos, kinetic motion, 
and light and other radiation. Altho the stupendous spectacle of the 
supernova is its light output, the energy evected by this light is 
actually the least part of all the energy expelled. The LMC supernova 
threw off order 53 ergs in neutrinos, 51 in mass motion, and "only" 49 
in radiant energy including light. The output is practicly all 
neutrinos! The immense torrent of light is is but 1% of 1% of the 
whole energy!! Even the shell -- outrushing at 30 to 40 thousand Km/s 
at first -- carries only 1% of the supernova's energy!!! 
    Nowadays the star is fading with a halflife of 94 days. The 
probable cause of this decline is radiation accompanying the decay of 
elements created in the explosion. Astronomers believe that the 
explosion created about 1/10 sun-mass of nickel-56. This decays into 
cobalt-56 with halflife of 6.2 days by electron capture. A nickel 
proton absorbs a free electron and turns into a neutron plus 
radiation. The cobalt in turn decays into iron-56, a stable isotope. 
also by electron capture but with halflife 77.3 days. This cobalt 
decay releases strong radiation which is absorbed by the dense shell 
around the star. We do not see it directly; we see the fluorescently 
reemitted radiation as the declining portion of the lightcurve. 
    The spread of halflifes, 77.3 days for the cobalt decay and 94 for 
the light, is disturbing. However, among reactions believed to occur 
in supernovae, the cobalt decay is a better fit, tho seemingly a poor 
    All eyes are watching for the shell to dilate or dissipate, 
allowing the cobalt radiation to escape to the Earth. When this 
happens its spectrum can be compared with the laboratory spectrum of 
  cobalt decay, with lines at 1238KeV, 847KeV, 732KeV. In wavelengths 
these are 1.001e-3nm, 1.464e-3nm, and 1.694e-3nm. 
    So, folks, don't leave yet. The best is still to come!

 1988 February 1

    A special bulletin board for diffusing among astronomers news 
about the LMC supernova began full operations in January 1988. The 
board, Astronomy Information Service or ASTIS, is honchoed by the 
Space Telescope Science Institute and is accessible via the comms nets 
of NASA such as ARPA and SPAN. Being that it is an internal operation 
of NASA, ASTIS is not reachable thru the public telephone grid. Since 
most universities and NASA contractors are tied into the NASA nets, 
nonNASA astronomers can benefit from ASTIS. 
    The need for the BBS arose because there are already some 200 
astronomers actively studying the supernova, mainly from southern 
hemisphere stations far from northern homebases. Conventional mail and 
telegraph quickly proved to be altogether clumsy, slow, and erratic. 
    ASTIS has electronic mail, message bases, litterature indexing, 
text search, astronomer rosters, specificly for the LMC supernova. The 
tAU Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams posts on ASTIS the IAU 
Circulars related to the exploded star. 
    STSI will run ASTIS for two years initially, on the belief that 
thereafter the influence of supernova information will cease to be 
time-critical. But, of course, if the star continues to act up, ASTIS 
will be kept online indefinitely. Already the acceptance and success 
of the BBS are pointing toward possible parallel boards for other 
fast-breaking phaenonena. 
    Altho full service on ASTIS was attained in January, the BBS saw 
"first signal" in September 1987. From then thru presstime about 100 
customers signed up for the board and 950 logons were handled by it.