Right now galaxy NGC 1566 is giving us a spectacular light show and astronomers suspect it could be coming from a powerful event called a Type II supernova, which occurs when a high-mass star ends its life in a brilliant, explosive display of light.
And you can watch it live Thursday night, on a livestream from the Slooh Space Observatory website. They will be broadcasting live from an observatory at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile starting at midnight Friday EDT (9pm Thursday PDT).
The stellar explosion was first spotted last week, by the All Sky Automated Survey for SuperNovae (ASASSN). They have dubbed it supernova candidate ASASSN-14ha.
They can’t say for sure what kind of explosion it is until they study it more. But it’s definitely a bright stellar explosion — many are saying it’s likely a Type II supernova. If the explosion is a Type II supernova, it’s a pretty spectacular stellar event.
“Is is exactly as would be expected for a supernova in a galaxy nearly 40 million light years away,” Slooh astronomer Bob Berman told Business Insider. The supernova candidate is about as bright as Pluto, he said.
Only stars with a mass between 8 to 50 times greater than our sun produce Type II supernovae. It happens at when the star grows old and runs out of fuel. That’s bad news since the burning fuel provides the pressure that stops the star from collapsing due to gravity. No fuel, no support, implosion, and eventually, a catastrophic explosion from the pressure.
The supernova’s host galaxy, NGC 1566, is about 38.4 million light years from the Milky Way, which as galactic distances go is relatively close but sadly not close enough to be seen even with a decent home telescope. Not only that, the supernova candidate is only visible from the Southern Hemisphere, in the constellation Dorado.
If you are located in the Northern Hemisphere (which includes the US and Europe), you can get a look at the stellar explosion on the Slooh livestream below starting at Midnight EDT on Sept 19 (which is colloquially called Thursday night).
The explosion was observed near the luminous central bulge of its host galaxy, which is unusual. Most Type II supernovae occur within the spiral arms of galaxies like NGC 1566, but ASASSN-14ha is “almost smack at the core” of the galaxy according to Berman.
“Type II supernovae are special in that they ‘blow’ without any prodding or influence from a companion star,” Berman told Business Insider. “Such stars are always high-mass, and young, and such stars typically inhabit the spiral arms. So this one almost smack at the core is very special.”
“This combination of extreme conditions and odd circumstances makes it a riveting and worthy event for Slooh’s real-time monitoring,” Berman said in a press release.
Type II supernovae like ASASSN-14ha are crucial for enriching the universe with heavy elements like oxygen and iron that cultivated the origins for life on Earth. But there are still aspects about them that astronomers have yet to understand.
“The last chapter has not been written in understanding them, [including] their variations from each other,” Berman says.
Astronomers have observed more than 100 supernovae this year alone, so they are relatively common. According to the International Astronomical Union Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams, this is the first supernova for September 2014.
Here’s the livestream for tonight/tomorrow, starting at 12:00 AM EDT:
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