The SOCIETY for POPULAR ASTRONOMY
Electronic News Bulletin No. 368b 2014 January 22
A relatively close supernova has exploded in the galaxy Messier 82
and may become bright enough to be observed in binoculars. M82 lies
about 11.4 million light-years away, which is relatively nearby,
making this already one of the brightest for many years.
Early images show the supernova as a bright blob against the cigar
shape of the galaxy, which can be found in the constellation of Ursa
Major and which is visible as a smudge in binoculars or a small
Estimates of its brightness put it at a little above 12th magnitude,
so it is a telescopic target. However, supernova experts say it was
discovered early in its explosive outburst and so could reach
The galaxy M82 is easy to find using the familiar star pattern of the
Big Dipper (also known as the Plough) which is part of the
constellation of Ursa Major. Just imagine a line extended through the
stars gamma and alpha and it will point to where the galaxy lies.
An image of the supernova was taken by SPA member Robin Scagell,
remotely using a telescope in New Mexico.
The supernova appears to have been discovered on Tuesday night by
tutor Dr Steve Fossey and his students, of University College London,
when they imaged the galaxy from the university's teaching
observatory at Mill Hill, north London.
It was confirmed by Russian astronomers L Elenin and I Molotov, using
a 0.4-metre telescope at the ISON-NM Observatory at Mayhill, New
Mexico. Its position is measured as 09h 55m 42s, +69d 40' 25.8", and
the discovery brightness was given as magnitude 11.7.
Remarkably, pre-discovery images have turned up showing that the
supernova was already apparent a week before discovery as it
brightened. But somehow it went unnoticed.
News of the supernova spread swiftly thanks to social media such as
Twitter, with excited professional astronomers comparing notes to
help themselves understand its significance! They will also be
scouring old Hubble images to see if they can se the star that
produced the supernova.
The SPA's Tony Markham, a formidable variable star observer, said:
"At its latest reported magnitude of 11.7, a telescope will be needed
to see the supernova. However given that it seems to have been
detected in its early stages it may well brighten further and could
even become visible in good binoculars."
Chris Lintott, of the University of Oxford, and presenter of The Sky
at Night, told us: "This is a nearby supernova, by astronomical
standards, and so we have the chance to learn about the causes and
processes that drive these spectacular events. Early indications are
this might be a type Ia - they're the type we use to measure the
expansion of the Universe and so that would be especially exciting."
The closest supernova of recent years was seen to explode in 1987 in
the Milky Way's companion galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud. Labelled
SN1987A, it was of a different type to the new supernova, and reached
magnitude 3 though was too far south for UK observers to see.
(c) 2014 the Society for Popular Astronomy
Our lively website: www.popastro.com
Colin James Watling
Real Astronomer and head of the Comet section for LYRA (Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth Regional Astronomers) also head of K.A.G (Kessingland Astronomy Group) and Navigator (Astrogator) of the Stars (Fieldwork)