Categories: galaxies

This is the Fireworks Galaxy. It’s had ten Supernovae in the Last Century Alone

Say hello to NGC 6946, otherwise known as the Fireworks Galaxy. This little galaxy is the most prolific producer of supernovae in the known universe, popping off those incredible explosions roughly once a decade. It’s secret? An incredibly high rate of star formation.

NGC 6946 sits about 25 million light-years away, close enough that it was once thought that it was a part of the Local Group, our galactic neighborhood in the universe. It’s not that big of a galaxy – roughly 40,000 lightyears across – but what it lacks in size it makes up for in panache.

Over the past 100 years, astronomers have witness ten supernovae explosions in the Fireworks Galaxy, as NGC 6946 is better known. That’s much higher than your average spiral galaxy, which typically only produces a few every century. What’s more, X-ray observations have revealed even more supernovae in the recent past, indicating that this is not a new thing for NGC 6946.

Ironically, the boastful supernovae rate in NGC 6946 isn’t because the Fireworks Galaxy is good at killing stars, it’s because it’s good at making them. NGC 6946 has a higher-than-average star formation rate. More stars of all kinds = more big, short-lived stars = more supernova explosions.

So why does NGC 6946 have such a high star formation rate? Astronomers aren’t sure. Perhaps it suffered a recent merger. Or perhaps its gas reserves cooled and contracted all at once. While we puzzle over this particular astronomical riddle, at least we can enjoy the show.

Paul M. Sutter

Astrophysicist, Author, Host | pmsutter.com

Recent Posts

There’s Another, More Boring Explanation for those Dyson Sphere Candidate Stars

Dyson Spheres have been a tantalising digression in the hunt for alien intelligence. Just recently…

29 mins ago

Hundreds of Massive Stars Have Simply Disappeared

The lifecycle of a star is regularly articulated as formation taking place inside vast clouds…

1 hour ago

What’s Under This Hole on the Surface of Mars?

Human visitors to Mars need somewhere to shelter from the radiation, temperature swings, and dust…

1 hour ago

Sorry Spock, But “Vulcan” Isn’t a Planet After All

In 2018, astronomers detected an exoplanet around the star 40 Eridani. It's about 16 light-years…

4 hours ago

A Mini-Neptune in the Habitable Zone in a Binary Star System

Sometimes, it seems like habitable worlds can pop up almost anywhere in the universe. A…

6 hours ago

Astronomy Generates Mountains of Data. That’s Perfect for AI

Consumer-grade AI is finding its way into people's daily lives with its ability to generate…

9 hours ago