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Wednesday starts off with a BANG!

A brand spanking new supernova
/ Source: MSNBC TV

A brand spanking new supernova

Just before 4:00am while most of us were sleeping, astronomers observed a target they were alerted to through the Astronomer’s Telegram alert system (yes, that’s a thing) and confirmed a brand spanking new supernova in a galaxy called M82, aka the Cigar Galaxy.

The best way to fully appreciate this supernova is this .gif which blinks between images taken two months apart. The first was taken November 22, 2013 by the 2-meter Faulkes Telescope North which sits atop Mt. Haleakala on the island of Maui. The second was taken in the wee hours of this morning at using a 0.5 telescope in Mayhill, New Mexico operated remotely. That bright spot that you see in the second but not in the first is a SUPERNOVA! The reason the images aren’t exactly identical are due to the different observing conditions (weather, temperature, clouds, etc.) at these different points in time and space. Regardless though, the supernova makes itself known.

This particular supernova, creatively named PSN_J09554214+6940260, has been TENTATIVELY classified as what we call a Type 1a supernova. For a refresher on what causes these here’s my whiteboard video from 3 years ago: 

Essentially, they are of specific interest because they can help us refine our distance measurements to distant galaxies, as well as determine the expansion rate of the Universe.

What happens next is that the majority of astronomical observatories are going to be pointed at this thing to better characterize every aspect of it. M82 is less than 12 million light-years away (totally in the neighborhood by astronomical standards) so this is the first time in decades we’ve been able to see one of these “up close”. The “explosion” that caused this supernova took only seconds, but the physical processes it sets in motion will cause the star to continue to brighten over the coming days and possible weeks. My friend and fellow astronomer Nicole Gugliucci says it best: 

“I love the final statement, “Panchromatic follow-up is encouraged.” That’s the astronomer’s way of saying, “SRSLY EVERYONE GET YOUR TELESCOPES ON IT NOW!” All colors, all wavelengths, let’s see what surprises this has in store for us.”

If we’re lucky, this supernova might even get bright enough to see with binoculars. So make some cocoa, get your winter gear ready, and LOOK UP!