By Dennis Overbye
It was one of the great fireworks displays of recent cosmic history.
On Feb. 23, 1987, Earth time, a massive star blew apart right in front of the world’s astronomers, strewing ribbons and rings of glowing gas across the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy on the doorstep of the Milky Way. Today a smoke ring two-thirds of a light-year wide marks that part of the sky: almost 19 suns worth of glowing hot starstuff, some of it still radioactive, still spreading outward into the universe and diligently tracked by humans using instruments such as the Hubble Space Telescope.
But conspicuously missing from all those observations over the last 33 years has been any hint of the exploded star’s core, the demon seed of this cosmic catastrophe. Has it become a black hole? A dense nugget known as a neutron star? Did the star’s core just disappear? No one knew.
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