Last night, telescopes at the University of London Observatory (UCL) spotted an exploding star in a galaxy that is 12 million light years away.
That sounds like a long distance from Earth, but it’s relatively close when you consider the gigantic size of the universe.
The UCL team said in a statement that the supernova is the closest to Earth to be observed since 1987.
Even though the star blew up 12 million years ago, we’re only just seeing the light from the explosion now.
Because of its proximity, the supernova is “bright enough for even small telescope observers to see,” says Bob King at Universe Today.
The exploding star, first spotted by students and their teacher, Steve Fossey, appears in the Messier 82 (M82) galaxy, nicknamed the “Cigar Galaxy” because of its shape.
The two images to the right show the Cigar Galaxy before and after the explosion. You can see a bright circle in the second image, which was taken at 3:47 a.m. EST on Jan. 21, 2014.
The observation still has to be confirmed by the International Astronomical Union, but astronomers believe it is a “Type Ia supernova caused by a white dwarf star pulling matter off a larger neighbouring star until it becomes unstable and explodes,” according to UCL.
According to Ars Technica, the explosion probably produced high-energy particles called neutrinos, but the galaxy might be too far away for Earth-based detectors to pick them up.
The supernova is too faint to see right now, but will continuing brightening over the next two weeks by which time it should be visible with binoculars, according to Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait.
To look for the bright object, first locate the Big Dipper in the sky. Then look directly above it — that’s where you’ll find the M82 galaxy.
Here’s a map of sky tweeted by Australian astrophysicist Katie Mack to help you find it:
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