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!
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.
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.
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.
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.