Supernova In Nearby Galaxy Stuns Astronomers
The explosion of a star in a nearby galaxy is causing amateur astronomers around the world to rush to their telescopes.Designated SN 2014J the blast was caused by the complete destruction of a white dwarf – a small, incredibly dense star the size of a planet.
The stellar explosion, or supernova, was discovered in the M82 galaxy just 12 million light years away and was photographed by Nasa’s Swift space observatory in low orbit around the Earth.
This makes the blast the nearest optical supernova to Earth in 20 years.
Such supernova blasts happen in one of two ways. Either the white dwarf pulled mass from another star until it reached a critical point and exploded, or it simply collided with another star, including possibly a second white dwarf.
Photographs sent back to scientists show a superheated shell of gas expanding outwards into space at tens of millions of miles per hour. The brightness of the shell depends on its size, transparency and how radioactive it is.
Astronomers expect SN 2014J to continue to brighten into the first week of February, by which time it may be bright enough to be visible from Earth using binoculars.
M82, also known as the Cigar Galaxy, can be located in the Ursa Major, or Great Bear, constellation and is a popular target for small telescopes.
The galaxy is undergoing a powerful episode of star formation that makes it many times brighter than our own Milky Way galaxy.