The astronomy world is all a-twitter this morning over the discovery of a new supernova in M82, a galaxy that's in our astronomical backyard, "only" 12 million light-years away. And early word is that it appears to be a Type Ia supernova, the kind that's used as a standard candle to measure the expansion of the universe. According to Nick Howes at Remanzacco Observatory, "This is the closest supernova to Earth since the Supernova 1987A and the closest supernova Type Ia since SN 1972E." Even better, the discovery was made by students working with astrophysicist Steve Fossey at University College London.
UCL / University of London Observatory / Steve Fossey / Ben Cooke / Guy Pollack / Matthew Wilde / Thomas Wright
Discovery image of supernova in M82
Remanzacco Observatory shared a nice pair of comparison images of M82 before and after the supernova:
E. Guido, N. Howes, M. Nicolini
Before-and-after comparison of M82 supernova
This animation showing a comparison between the Remanzacco Observatory's confirmation image of the supernova in M82 (from January 22, 2014) and an archive image by the 2-meter telescope FTN - LCOGT (from November 22, 2013).
I'm no astronomer, so to tell you more of the story of the discovery I'll send you to SkyMania, and to fill in a little more background I'll send you to Universe Today, and to tell you how to observe it yourself (you'll need a small telescope, but it may brighten enough to be visible in binoculars) I'll send you to Sky & Telescope.
Supernovas are one kind of natural phenomenon that set me daydreaming. So enormous, so mind-bogglingly violent, this little flash could have destroyed whole solar systems, and sterilized many more. And yet out of their destruction, rebirth: the seeding of their galaxy with the heavy elements from which life-building molecules and planet-building rocks are made. Life out of death, annihilation begetting creation, the goddess Kali incarnate.
My daydreaming made me wonder: if we're receiving photons from this supernova, will we receive particles, now or in the future? I asked my astronomer colleagues on Twitter, and in short, the answer is no.
@elakdawalla I talked to the IceCube people, and the backgrounds are too strong - too hard to ID neutrinos from it.
Here's the Hubble mosaic. Click through twice to see it in all its 22 Megabytes of glory. But if you want to dig through to find the supernova's progenitor, it's best to start with the original data.
NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
M82, the Cigar Galaxy
The Hubble Space Telescope captured this enormous mosaic of M82, located in Ursa Major, in 2006. The galaxy is remarkable for its bright blue disk, webs of shredded clouds, and fiery-looking plumes of glowing hydrogen blasting out of its central regions.
Astronomers are now asking for help from amateurs who may have imaged M82 in the last week:
It will help a lot, we'll include you in the publications! MT @chrislintott Astrophotographers - check images of M82 taken in the last week