Hubble Spies a Cosmic Bauble

Written by The Night Sky Guy on May 7, 2013 – 3:50 pm -

Hubble sees the ashes of a star gone supernova.   Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA. Acknowledgement: Claude Cornen)

Hubble sees the ashes of a star gone supernova. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA. Acknowledgement: Claude Cornen)

The Hubble Space Telescope has snapped an amazing image of a supernova remnant-  dubbed SNR 0519-  located in one of the Milky Way’s small satellite galaxies  150,000 light years from Earth.

Wispy shells of blood-red colored gas filaments appears to float peacefully in space however it marks the site of a cataclysmic event that occurred 600 years ago.

The shell of material we see in this image was once part of a white dwarf- an Earth-sized elderly star that may have looked a lot like our own sun in its younger days.  This stellar progenitor was in a close binary star system where gas from its neighboring star was gravitationally pulled onto the surface of the white dwarf.  Over time this gas accumulated and eventually detonated in a thermonuclear explosion that resulted in the beautiful deep-sky object that we see today .

As the years go by this gaseous envelope will continue to expand and ultimately, after many millennia, dissipate into the surrounding interstellar medium.

SNR 0519 is found within the southern constellation Dorado (the dolphin fish) within the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) – the fourth largest galaxy in our local collection of islands of stars known as the Local Group.

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New Supernovae Species Found!

Written by The Night Sky Guy on March 31, 2013 – 9:40 am -

It seems that like your favorite latte at the local coffee shop, the most violent star explosions in the universe  come in small sizes too.  Astronomers this week announced they have found a new miniature version of a supernova they are calling Type Iax.  Up until now, supernovae were thought to come in two main flavors – core collapse and Type Ia.

How common are these mini-supernovae and could there be one lurking nearby?  Read all the details on my story at National Geographic News.

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Buzz about Solar Big Bang

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 8, 2011 – 10:11 pm -

There is a lot of excitement on the web the last couple of days related to the massive solar flare/prominence seen on the surface of the sun by a NASA satellite. Indeed astronomers who study our neighbouring star say they have never seen so much matter ejected off the Sun and rain back down on it. If you haven’t seen the original video posted by NASA scientists then check it out below. It really is an awesome sight – especially when you consider that this flare is hundreds of times larger than our little blue marble we live on – planet Earth.

What’s the fallout for us here from this titanic fireworks show? The solar eruption was considered a medium one by scientists and was away from the central region of the Sun.  Luckily the resulting giant particle cloud coming off of this event is not heading directly towards Earth – because if it was it would surely have fried some communication satellites and wreaked havoc with our electronic technologies. But we may still see a great light show in the form of some Northern Lights Thursday night.   Check out my National Geographic column on what we might expect to see. 

Also making big space news this week is the discovery of a new class of supernova- the most violent events known in the cosmos. THese exploding stars are 100 times more massive than our Sun and are at leaast 10 times brighter than anything seen before. 

Astronomers hope to use these cosmic flashlights to see distant galaxies which otherwise would remain invisible to us here on Earth.  Check out my news story.


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Hunting for Whirlpool Supernova

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 4, 2011 – 12:49 pm -

Since I posted my National Geographic story about the new supernova discovery in the Whirlpool galaxy (M 51) more than 10,000 15,000 people and counting have Facebook ‘liked’ it. Obviously this cosmic eruption has excited lots of stargazers out there – including me! So of course as soon as I caught wind of the discovery I wanted to hunt this elusive point of light down for myself in my  backyard scope.  I am not really an astro-imager but more of an casual observer that likes to push the limits of my observation and scope capablitiy – especially from my light polluted backyard. I knew this magnitude 14 supernova 31 million light years would do just that.

A few hours after writing the story up Friday night, June 3rd, I started searching for the supernova in M51. I actually waited until after 11 pm for dark skies to settle in and cool down the optics on my 16 inch truss dobsonian telescope. After about an hour searching and staring (using averted vision) at M51 with a 9 mm Nagler I managed to tease out some of the spiral arm details -including a few foreground stars.

Once I knew where to look – basing it on the photo below – it wasn’t too hard to ID the stellar interloper. In fact by around 1 am my dark vision must have been better because I could see the supernova directly without much difficulty. Other observers are reporting this morning that they have been able to spot it with 12 inch and even 10 inch scopes with 130x magnification.  It will be interesting to see over time what happens to its brightness.

Here are some details for those up for the hunt:

Credit: Keith from Massachusetts

M51 supernova image taken June 3, 2011; Credit: Keith from Massachusetts

Name: SN 2011d

location: Ra 13h 30m 5s and Dec +40° 10′ 11.2″   ;

Details: Located 138″ east and 92″ north of the center of M51.  Supernova near to and southeast of NGC 5194’s core.  Don’t be fooled by the bright star southwest of the nucleus.

Observing Report references where you can keep up to date: CBAT : M51 supernova ,,  supernovanet

Here are some amateur images of SN 2011d:  (Bailey discovery image) (Dupouy discovery image) (Griga discovery image) (Garnier image) (Yusa image) (Joseph Brimacombe image) (Joseph Brimacombe image wide field) (R. Koff image) (Ron Arbour image) (Giancarlo Cortini image) (Pedro Re image) (Stan Howerton image) All courtesy of supernovanet.

Some predict that it may increase in brightness up to 12.2 magnitude – which would definitely make it much easier to visually see in much smaller telescopes.  So it will definitely be worth keeping an eye on the next couple of weeks at least.

Can’t wait for the next clear night!

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New Light on Old Explosion

Written by The Night Sky Guy on July 23, 2009 – 12:55 pm -

Ten years ago, on July 23, 1999, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory was launched aboard the space shuttle Columbia and deployed into orbit. Chandra has doubled its original five-year mission, ushering in an unprecedented decade of discovery for the high-energy universe.

 This image of the debris of an exploded star — known as supernova remnant 1E 0102.2-7219, or “E0102” for short — features data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. E0102 is located about 190,000 light years away in the Small Magellanic Cloud, one of the nearest galaxies to the Milky Way. It was created when a star that was much more massive than the Sun exploded, an event that would have been visible from the Southern Hemisphere of the Earth over 1000 years ago.Chandra first observed E0102 shortly after its launch in 1999. New X- ray data have now been used to create this spectacular image and help celebrate the ten-year anniversary of Chandra’s launch on July 23, 1999. In this latest image of E0102, the lowest-energy X-rays are colored orange, the intermediate range of X-rays is cyan, and the highest-energy X-rays Chandra detected are blue. An optical image from the Hubble Space Telescope (in red, green and blue) shows additional structure in the remnant and also reveals foreground stars in the field.

The Chandra image shows the outer blast wave produced by the supernova (blue), and an inner ring of cooler (redder) material. This inner ring is probably expanding ejecta from the explosion that is being heated by a shock wave traveling backwards into the ejecta. A massive star (not visible in this image) is illuminating the green cloud of gas and dust to the lower right of the image. This star may have similar properties to the one that exploded to form E0102.

– Adapted from Material taken from NASA news annoucement

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Farthest Supernova Discovered

Written by The Night Sky Guy on July 8, 2009 – 1:05 pm -

Cosmologists have found two supernovae farther away than any previously detected by using a new technique that could help find other dying stars at the edge of the universe. This method has the potential to allow astronomers to study some of the very first supernovae and will advance the understanding of how galaxies form, how they change over time and how Earth came to be. “When stars explode, they spew matter into space. Eventually, gravity collapses the matter into a new star, which could have planets such as Earth around it,” said Jeff Cooke, co-discoverer.

The supernovae Cooke and colleagues found occurred 11 billion years ago. The next-farthest large supernova known occurred about 6 billion years ago.
“The universe is about 13.7 billion years old, so really we are seeing some of the first stars ever formed,” Cooke said.

A supernova occurs when a massive star (more than eight times the mass of the Sun) dies in a powerful, bright explosion. Cooke studies larger stars (50 to 100 times the mass of the Sun) that blow part of their mass into their surroundings before they die. When they finally explode, the nearby matter glows brightly for years.

– Adapted from material provided by University of California news announcement.

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Kid Discovers Supernova

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 14, 2009 – 8:12 pm -

In November 2008, Caroline Moore, a 14-year-old student from upstate New York, discovered a supernova in a nearby galaxy, making her the youngest person ever to do so. Additional observations determined that the object, called SN 2008ha, is a new type of stellar explosion, 1000 times more powerful than a nova but 1000 times less powerful than a supernova. Astronomers say that it may be the weakest supernova ever seen.

SN 2008ha in UGC 12682 (Credit: William Wiethoff)

SN 2008ha in UGC 12682 (Credit: William Wiethoff)

 Even though this explosion was a weakling compared to most supernovae, for a short time SN 2008ha was 25 million times brighter than the sun. However, since it is 70 million light years away, it appeared very faint viewed from Earth. The peculiar object effectively bridged the gap between a nova (a nuclear explosion on the surface of an old, compact star called a white dwarf) and a type Ia supernova (the destructive death of a white dwarf caused by a runaway nuclear reaction starting deep in the star). SN 2008ha likely was a failed supernova where the explosion was unable to destroy the entire star.

 “If a normal supernova is a nuclear bomb, then SN 2008ha is a bunker buster,” said team leader Ryan Foley, Clay fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and first author on the paper reporting the findings. “From one perspective, this supernova was an underachiever, however you still wouldn’t want be anywhere near the star when it exploded.”

 Caroline was able to discover the object using a relatively small telescope, but some of the most advanced telescopes in the world were needed to determine the nature of the explosion. Data came from the Magellan telescopes in Chile, the MMT telescope in Arizona, the Gemini and Keck telescopes in Hawaii, and NASA’s Swift satellite.

 “Coincidentally, the youngest person to ever discover a supernova found one of the most peculiar and interesting supernovae ever,” remarked Filippenko. “This shows that no matter what your age, anyone can make a significant contribution to our understanding of the Universe.”

Adapted from press release provided by Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

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Secret Supernova in nearby Galaxy

Written by The Night Sky Guy on May 27, 2009 – 6:30 am -

Backyard telescope users are familiar with galaxy M82 in the constellation Ursa Major, but it recently revealed a secret to astronomers. A supernova- giant exploding star – has been uncovered using radio telescopes, behind a veil of gas and dust at the heart of this nearby island of stars.  This is the cloest supernova detected in the last five years. Its home galaxy is an irregular galaxy in a nearby galaxy group located 12 million light-years from Earth. Despite being smaller than the Milky Way, it hides an active central star-forming region in the inner core that is only about a few hundred lightyears in size. In this stellar factory more stars are presently born than in the entire Milky Way. M82 is often called an ‘exploding galaxy’, because it looks as if being torn apart in optical and infrared images as the result of numerous supernova explosions from massive stars . Read the full story here


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