Bad Astronomy


The irregular galaxy M82, host to the newest, brightest, and nearest supernova in the sky

Photo by Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona

Unfortunately, it was cloudy here in Boulder, Colo., last night, so I didn’t get a chance to go out and see the new supernova in the nearby galaxy M82 that has the astronomy community scrambling. However, not all is lost, because just last night my friend Adam Block took the spectacular image above, which shows it in all its glory.

He combined several shots to show both the galaxy and the exploding star, which is just to the right of the galactic center. Here’s the same shot with the supernova indicated:

M82 with the supernova position indicated. Click to embiggen. Click to chandrasekharenate.

Photo by Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona

The galaxy is an odd one; it’s classified as an irregular, literally a galaxy with an irregular shape. You can see the reddish material that looks like a shredded balloon or debris from an explosion; that’s actually huge amounts of gas and dust being blown out from the galaxy by the fierce winds of newborn stars. M82 is undergoing a vast wave of star formation, and their combined power is blasting material right out of the galaxy itself.

I don’t have much more info on the supernova except that it now has an official name: SN 2014J, the 10th exploding star seen so far this year. It’s by far the brightest, and it looks to be somewhat brighter than 11th magnitude. It’s not clear how bright it will get, but I expect it may reach around magnitude 8; still too faint to see with the naked eye, but possible to spot through good binoculars at a dark site, and easily seen with a telescope. It’ll probably reach its maximum brightness in a week or two.

I’ll note one thing I haven’t seen others talking about: M82 hosted another supernova recently, in 2008. It was buried deep in the dust of the galaxy, so it wasn’t seen at all by telescopes that see in visible light; only radio waves could get out of the mess. Not that much is known about it. But it’s still interesting to note there have been two such events in the galaxy in just a few years.

I’ll try to post updates on SN 2014J as I get more info, but a good bet is to go on Twitter, where astronomers are swapping tidbits and links to images of the galaxy and its newly shining supernova.