Bright New Supernova Blows Up in Nearby M82, the Cigar Galaxy

by Bob King on January 22, 2014

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Before and after photos of the bright galaxy M82 showing the appearance of a brand new supernova. The object is located 54" west and 21" south of the galaxy's center. Credit: E. Guido, N. Howes, M. Nicolini

Before and after photos of the galaxy M82 showing the appearance of a brand new 11.7 magnitude supernova. The object is located in the galaxy’s plane 54″ west and 21″ south of its center. Credit: E. Guido, N. Howes, M. Nicolini

Wow! Now here’s a supernova bright enough for even small telescope observers to see. And it’s in a bright galaxy in Ursa Major well placed for viewing during evening hours in the northern hemisphere. Doesn’t get much better than that! The new object was discovered last night by  S.J. Fossey; news of the outburst first appeared on the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams “Transient Objects Confirmation Page”

An animation showing a comparison between the confirmation image of supernova in M82 by the team from the Remanzacco Observatory and archive image by a 2-meter telescope FTN - LCOGT from November 22, 2013.  Click on the image for a larger version. Credit: E. Guido, N. Howes, M. Nicolini.

An animation showing a comparison between the confirmation image of supernova in M82 by the team from the Remanzacco Observatory and archive image by a 2-meter telescope FTN – LCOGT from November 22, 2013. Click on the image for a larger version. Credit: E. Guido, N. Howes, M. Nicolini.

Astronomers are saying this new supernova is currently at magnitude +11 to +12, so its definitely not visible with the naked eye. You’ll need a 4 inch telescope at least to be able to see it. That said, at 12 million light years away, this is (at the moment) the brightest, closest supernova since SN 1993 J kaboomed in neighboring galaxy M81 21 years ago in 1993. M81 and M82, along with NGC 3077, form a close-knit interacting group.

Galaxy M81 with the new bright supernova photographed earlier today. Credit: Leonid Elenin

Another view of the galaxy M82 with the new bright supernova photographed earlier today. M82 glows at magnitude 8.4 and a popular object for telescopes of every size. Credit: Leonid Elenin

It’s amazing it wasn’t found and reported sooner (update — see below, as perhaps it was!). M82 is a popular target for beginning and amateur astronomers; pre-discovery observations show it had already brightened to magnitude 13.9 on the 16th, 13.3 on the 17th and 12.2 on the 19th. Cold winter weather and clouds to blame?

This is the starburst galaxy M82 imaged by Hubble in 2006, with approximate location of the new supernova noted. Image credit: NASA/ESA and the Hubble Heritage team, image notation by Jason Major.

This is the starburst galaxy M82 imaged by Hubble in 2006, with approximate location of the new supernova noted. Image credit: NASA/ESA and the Hubble Heritage team, image notation by Jason Major.

M82 is a bright, striking edge-on spiral galaxy bright enough to see in binoculars. Known as the Cigar or Starburst Galaxy because of its shape and a large, active starburst region in its core, it’s only 12 million light years from Earth and home to two previous supernovae in 2004 and 2008. Neither of those came anywhere close to the being as bright as the discovery, and it’s very possible the new object will become brighter yet.

Evolution of a Type Ia supernova. A superdense white dwarf star draws matter from a companion star, reaches a critical limit and then burns catastrophically. Credit: NASA/CXC/M. Weiss

Evolution of a Type Ia supernova. A superdense white dwarf star draws matter from a companion star, reaches a critical limit and then burns catastrophically. Credit: NASA/CXC/M. Weiss

PSN J09554214+6940260 is a Type Ia supernova. Type Ia (one-a), a dry term describing one of the most catastrophic events in the universe. Here a superdense white dwarf, a star only about the size of Earth but with the gravitational power of a sun-size star, pulls hydrogen gas from a nearby companion down to its surface where it adds to the star’s weight.

When the dwarf packs enough pounds to reach a mass 1.4 times that of the sun, it can no longer support itself. The star suddenly collapses, heats to incredible temperatures and burns up explosively in a runaway fusion reaction. What we see here on Earth is the sudden appearance of a brand new star within the galaxy’s disk. Of course, it’s not really a new star, but rather the end of an aged one.

This map shows the sky facing north-northeast at 8 p.m. local time in late January. The supernova is located about a fist above the Dipper Bowl in M82. Right next store is the equally bright M81 galaxy. It's easy to tell them apart. M81 is round with a bright core compared the streak-like appearance of M82. Stellarium

This map shows the sky facing north-northeast at 8 p.m. local time in late January. The supernova is located about a “fist” above the Dipper Bowl in M82. Right next door is the equally bright M81 galaxy. It’s easy to tell them apart. M81 is round with a bright core; M82 looks like a streak mark. See detailed map below. Stellarium

I know you’re as excited as I am to get a look at this spectacular new star the next clear night, so I’ve prepared a couple maps to help you find the galaxy. The best time to see the supernova is as soon as the sky gets dark when it’s already up in the northeastern sky above the Dipper Bowl, but since it’s circumpolar for mid-latitude observers, you can check it out any time of night.

To find M82, look about 7 degrees (not quite a fist held at arm's length) above the Bowl to find 23 UMa, an easy naked eye star. From there you can star hop to a little triangle and over to a pair of stars (the "line"). M82 and M81 are about half a degree below the line. Stellarium

To find M82, look about 7 degrees (not quite a fist held at arm’s length) above the Bowl to find 23 UMa, an easy naked eye star. From there you can star hop to a little triangle and over to a pair of stars (the “line”). M82 and M81 are about half a degree below the line. Stellarium

My maps show its position for around 8 o’clock. When you dial in the galaxy in your telescope, look for a starry point along its long axis west and south of the nucleus. All the fury of this fantastic blast is concentrated in that meek spark of light glimmering in the galactic haze.

Good  luck and enjoy watching one of the biggest show of fireworks the universe has to offer. We’ll keep you posted with the latest updates right here. For more photos and additional information, please see David Bishop’s excellent Latest Supernovae site. For charts with magnitudes to follow the supernova’s progress, visit the AAVSO’s Variable Star Plotter and type in ‘PSN J09554214+6940260′ for the star’s name.  You can read more about the followup work by the Remanzacco Observatory team here.

UPDATE: Sketch of M82 and its supernova, now designated SN 2014J, made at 9 p.m. CST Jan. 22 with a 15-inch (37 cm) telescope. A perfect arc of 3 stars (left) takes you right to it. The object is the only bright star shining in the galaxy. The supernova had brightened to about magnitude 11 at this time. Amazingly easy to see. Credit: Bob King

UPDATE: Sketch of M82 and its supernova, now designated SN 2014J, made at 9 p.m. CST Jan. 22 with a 15-inch (37 cm) telescope. A perfect arc of 3 stars (left) takes you right to it. The object is the only bright star shining in the galaxy. Amazingly easy to see. Numbers shown are magnitudes from the AAVSO – use them to help you gauge 2014J’s brightness changes. Credit: Bob King

UPDATE: Fraser and team from the Virtual Star Party actually imaged M82 on Sunday evening, and you can see it in the video below at the 22 minute mark. It really looks like a bright spot is showing up — and that’s about a day before it was announced. Did they catch it? In the video the galaxy appears upside down as compared to the images here:

UT reader Andrew Symes took a screenshot from the VSP, flipped it, and compared it with photo from Meineko Sakura from the Tao Astronomical Observatory it really appears the team caught the supernova before it was actually announced! Take a look:

Screenshot from the January 19 Virtual Star Party (right) compared to image from Meineko Sakura of the Tao Astronomical Observatory of the new supernova.

Screenshot from the January 19 Virtual Star Party (right) compared to image from Meineko Sakura of the Tao Astronomical Observatory of the new supernova.

About 

I'm a long-time amateur astronomer and member of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO). My observing passions include everything from auroras to Z Cam stars. Every day the universe offers up something both beautiful and thought-provoking. I also write a daily astronomy blog called Astro Bob.

Starman_Andromeda January 25, 2014 at 11:21 AM

The animation is really bizarre– it shows several different stars brightening dramatically. Clearly, the exposure settings differed!

It’s not a really good way of showing the supernova at all.

Dennis Simmons January 26, 2014 at 12:04 AM

just saw it, although very distant, from encinitas california/ wow need a bigger mirror

Emceeterrabeatinadeehizouse January 27, 2014 at 12:21 AM

awweeee i’m blowin up

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