Sarah Keegan Headquarters, Washington, D.C. May 19, 1994 (Phone: 202/358-1547) until 12:30 p.m.

EDT

embargoed

Jim Elliott Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. (Phone: 301/286-6256) Ray Villard Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md. (Phone: 410/338-4514) RELEASE : 94-76 HST OBSERVES THE SUPERNOVA IN THE WHIRLPOOL GALAXY NASA's Hubble Space Telescope's (HST) Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 has returned valuable new images of the supernova 1994 I in the inner regions of the "Whirlpool Galaxy," M51, located 20 million light-years away in the constellation Canes Venatici. A supernova is a violent stellar explosion that destroys a star, while ejecting the products of nuclear burning into the gas between stars. Debris from supernova explosions play a central role in increasing the heavy element abundance of galaxies. The material that makes up the Sun, the Earth, and our bodies was once inside stars that exploded long before the solar system formed about five billion years ago. Supernova 1994 I was discovered by amateur astronomers on April 2, 1994, and has been the target of investigations by astronomers

using ground-based optical and radio telescopes. At its brightest, around April 10, the supernova was about 100 million times brighter than the Sun. Previous observations show that this is a very unusual supernova, called "Type Ic," for which very few examples have been studied carefully. Following initial observations with the International Ultraviolet Explorer satellite, which demonstrated that the supernova could be detected in the ultraviolet, a preplanned series of observations was initiated by the international Supernova Intensive Survey (SINS) team, headed by Dr. Robert P. Kirshner of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. -more-2The SINS group is using HST to study supernovae in the ultraviolet shortly after they are discovered, and at optical wavelengths as they become too faint to monitor from the ground. They hope to learn which stars explode as supernovae, what chemical elements are ejected by the eruption, and how to use these bright events as yardsticks for measuring the size of the universe. For example, the Supernova 1987A, located in the nearby Large Magellanic Cloud, has been studied by the SINS team since the launch of the HST in 1990 and will continue to be a target of investigations. The HST has the unique capability of being able to image and to measure the spectra of distant supernovae in ultraviolet light. As the M51 supernova ages, Hubble will see more deeply into the interior of the exploded star. This will allow astronomers to probe the chemical composition of the debris and to learn more about the type of star that exploded. The Space Telescope Science Institute is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA) for NASA, under contract with the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).

- end NOTE TO EDITORS: A black and white image will be available to news media in approximately a week from the Broadcast and Image Branch. To obtain an image, please FAX your request to the Branch at 202/358-4333. The photo number will be 94-H-160.