SN2014J - the nearest supernova for 10 years!

24 January 2014 by Fraser Clarke

SN2014J right of centre in M82

M82_2014J_Comparison.PNG621.37 KB

A supernova has exploded in the nearby galaxy M82, aka the 'cigar galaxy', and should get bright enough to be visible with binoculars. This supernova, already given the identifier SN2014J (the 10th supernova confirmed in 2014), is a "type 1a" supernova, which we believe are caused by exploding white dwarf stars. Type 1a's explode with very predictable brightnesses, making them ideal 'standard candles' to measure distances to galaxies accurately. These type of supernovae are the cornerstone of the relatively recent discovery that the Universe's expansion is actually accelerating, contrary to previous models.

SN2014J should be the brightest supernova for many years, though it is being dimmed somewhat by dust within M82 itself. Amazingly, for such a well known and popular galaxy, the supernova remained undiscovered for almost a week until Steve Fossey and a team of undergraduates noticed it during an undergraduate astronomy lesson at the University of London observatory!

Over the next week or so, SN2014J will continue to brighten up to an estimated peak magnitude of about 8.5 -- fairly easily detectable with a small telescope or binoculars from a dark site. Here's a nice map explaining how to find M82 (full article).

M82 SN2014J comparison: Spot the difference! The top image of M82 was taken on January 23rd 2014, and the bottom image was taken in December 2013 (both with the PWT in Oxford).Full size image

We've been looking at SN2014J from Oxford too. Below are a pair of images, the top one from January 23rd, and the bottom one from December 2013. SN2014J appears in the right-hand side of M82 in the upper image -- spot the difference with the bottom image! This is exactly what we were doing as part of our recent Stargazing Oxford event, where we did a live supernova hunt with the PWT here in Oxford looking for just this kind of event. We looked at about 20 nearby galaxies like M82, but didn't find any new supernovae (though we had 15 minutes of excitement until we realised we'd only REdiscovered supernova 2013ej in M74!) It's nice to see we weren't wasting our time -- if SN2014J had exploded just a week earlier, we could have found it!

We'll keep following SN2014J (along with other supernovae) for the next few months as part of the undergraduate MPhys project using the telescope to measure supernovae explosions.

Categories: supernovae | PWT