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Supernova in a Nearby Galaxy
updated: Jan 25, 2014, 11:00 AM

By Chuck McPartlin

A supernova was recently discovered in a nearby galaxy, only about 12 million light years away. The galaxy is known as M82, or Messier 82, and is visible in binoculars as a small fuzz patch in the ears of Ursa Major, the Great Bear, which contains the Big Dipper. The exploding star is expected to reach binocular brightness in early February.

Since I was out for an asteroid occultation, I thought I'd take a shot of it. Here are before and after images of the galaxy, from March 16, 2013 and January 22, 2014. You can always recognize a supernova, because it has an arrow pointing at it.

This exploding star has been identified as a Type 1a supernova, where a white dwarf star siphons material off a neighbor, or merges with another white dwarf, which tips it over the mass limit of stability and destroys it in a thermonuclear detonation. There's a good chance that the iron in your car and the hemoglobin of your blood came from just such an explosion.

Finder charts and more information can be found at Sky and Telescope.


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