Nova Sagittarius 2008 UPDATE

by Tammy Plotner on April 24, 2008

NOVA SGR 2008  - Joseph BrimacombeSince the initial alert for the latest nova in Sagittarius, folks the world over have been anxious for darkness to arrive and their chance at spotting this cosmic wonder firsthand. Thanks to our good friends at Macedon Ranges Observatory, Universe Today readers are about to see the latest nova in Sagittarius revealed and learn just what is a nova.

One thing is certain, both professional and amateur astronomers have something in common – curiosity. Unfortunately, because many of us live where skies seem to be perpetually cloudy or don’t always have the equipment to view a late breaking astronomy alert object, it becomes even more imperative to be able to call upon others in different regions of the world. It certainly is a true pleasure to have friends down under! So now that we see it… What is a nova?

The word nova is Latin for “new star”. Astronomers assign the term nova to stars that have a rapid increase in brightness. These stars are usually far too dim to be seen unaided and may often become the brightest object – besides the Sun and Moon – in the sky!

Novae themselves are stars that have been quiet for many years, and suddenly decided to reignite their nuclear fusion process. All stars have fusion occurring in their core – processing hydrogen into helium and releasing energy. When this fuel is expended, stars like our sun simply shed their outer layer and continue on as small, hot, white dwarf stars. They are basically dead… Their fuel gone.

Unlike our own Sun, most stars are a binary system – two stars that closely orbit each other. If one of these stars should happen to be a white dwarf and the other starts to evolve into a red giant, the white dwarf can begin attracting gas towards itself by means of gravity. What type of gas? Hydrogen! When the hydrogen stolen from the red giant reaches the surface of the incredibly hot white dwarf, it rapidly ignites. What’s born is an incredibly huge nuclear explosion on the white dwarf’s surface and we see it as a nova!

NOVA SGR 2008 24April - Joseph Brimacombe

Using a 12″ Ritchey Chretien Optical Systems telescope, Joe Brimacombe set to work imaging the latest nova for us to see. By comparing this photo with the 19 April Sagittarius Image you can see how quickly the white dwarf ignited!

Nova Sgr 19April2008 Joseph Brimacombe Image details are as follows: STL11000 camera; BRC 250; image scale 1.46 asec/px; image is 97 amin across; nova is centre star; stack 6 x 300 Ha; false colour.


Tammy is a professional astronomy author, President Emeritus of Warren Rupp Observatory and retired Astronomical League Executive Secretary. She’s received a vast number of astronomy achievement and observing awards, including the Great Lakes Astronomy Achievement Award, RG Wright Service Award and the first woman astronomer to achieve Comet Hunter's Gold Status.

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