Possible Nova Pops in Cygnus

by Bob King on April 1, 2014

The location of the possible nova discovery in Cygnus is marked. The object is about 1.5 degrees from the magnitude +4 star 41 Cygni. See below for detailed map. Stellarium

The location of the possible nova discovery in Cygnus is marked. The object is about 1.5 degrees west of the magnitude +4 star 41 Cygni. Its temporary designation is PNV J20214234+3103296. See below for detailed map. Stellarium

A newly-discovered star of magnitude +10.9 has flared to life in the constellation Cygnus the Swan. Koichi Nishiyama and Fujio Kabashima, both of Japan, made their discovery yesterday March 31 with a 105mm f/4 camera lens and electronic camera. They quickly confirmed the observation with additional photos taken with a 0.40-m (16-inch) reflector. Nothing was seen down to magnitude +13.4  in photos taken the on the 27th, but when they checked through images made on March 30 the star present at +12.4. Good news – it’s getting brighter!

This more detailed map, showing stars to mag. 10.5, will help you pinpoint the star. Stellarium

This more detailed map, showing stars to mag. 10.5, will help you pinpoint the star. Its coordinates are R.A. 20h 21m 42, declination +31 o3′. Stellarium

While the possible nova will need confirmation, nova lovers may want to begin observing the star as soon as possible. Novae can brighten quickly, sometimes by several magnitudes in just a day. These maps should help you hone in on the star which rises around midnight and becomes well placed for viewing around 1:30-2 a.m. local time in the eastern sky. At the moment, it will require a 4-inch or larger telescope to see, but I’m crossing my fingers we’ll see it brighten further.

Novae occur in close binary systems where one star is a tiny but extremely compact white dwarf star. The dwarf pulls material into a disk around itself, some of which is funneled to the surface and ignites in a nova explosion. Credit: NASA

Novae occur in close binary systems where one star is a tiny but extremely compact white dwarf star. The dwarf pulls material into a disk around itself, some of which is funneled to the surface and ignites in a nova explosion. Credit: NASA

To see a nova is to witness a cataclysm. Astronomers – mostly amateurs – discover about 10 a year in our Milky Way galaxy. Many more would be seen were it not for dust clouds and distance. All involve close binary stars where a tiny but extremely dense white dwarf star steals gas from its companion. The gas ultimately funnels down to the 150,000 degree surface of the dwarf where it’s compacted by gravity and heated to high temperature until it ignites in an explosive fireball. If you’ve ever wondered what a million nuclear warheads would look like detonated all at once, cast your gaze at a nova.

Novae can rise in brightness from 7 to 16 magnitudes, the equivalent of 50,000 to 100,000 times brighter than the sun, in just a few days. Meanwhile the gas they expel in the blast travels away from the binary at up to 2,000 miles per second.

One of the key diagnostics for nova identification is the appearance of deep red light in its spectrum called hydrogen alpha or H-alpha. Italian astronomer obtained this spectrum of the possible nova on April 1. Credit: Gianluca Masi

Emission of deep red light called hydrogen alpha or H-alpha is often diagnostic of a nova. When in the fireball phase, the star is hidden by a fiery cloud of rosy hydrogen gas and expanding debris cloud. Italian astronomer obtained this spectrum of the possible nova on April 1 showing H-alpha emission. Credit: Gianluca Masi

Nishiyama and Kabashima are on something of a hot streak. If confirmed, this would be their third nova discovery in a month! On March 8, they discovered Nova Cephei 2014 at magnitude 11.7 (it’s currently around 12th magnitude) and 10th magnitude Nova Scorpii 2014 (now at around 12.5) on March 26. Impressive.

Photo showing the possible nova in Cygnus. The star is described as being tinted red. Credit: Gianluca Masi

Photo showing the possible nova in Cygnus. The star is described as being tinted red. Credit: Gianluca Masi

Charts for the two older discoveries are available on the AAVSO website. Type in either Nova Cep 2014 or TCP J17154683-3128303 (for Nova Scorpii)  in the Star finder box and click Create a finder chart. I’ll update this article as soon as a chart for the new object is posted.

** UPDATE April 2, 2014: This star has been confirmed as a nova. You can print out a chart by going to the AAVSO website and following the instructions above using Nova Cyg 2014 for the star name. On April 2.4 UT, I observed the nova at magnitude 11.o.

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.

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