A New Supernova in M82
It’s been confirmed today that an observation made by UCL astronomy students on Tuesday was of a new bright supernova in a nearby galaxy, M82. The supernova has been given the official designation Supernova 2014J.
SN2014J is currently around magnitude 11, meaning that you’ll need a telescope to see it, but a small-ish one will do; something at least 10cm diameter. However its spectrum suggests it’s a type Ia supernova – an exploded white dwarf star – and that it’s probably several days away from reaching its peak brightness, so it may well brighten enough to be visible through binoculars.
UPDATE: It’s peaked at mag 10.5
Luckily for northern hemisphere observers it’s very easy to find. It’s located in the galaxy known as M82, the Cigar Galaxy, which lies in the constellation of Ursa Major, the Great Bear, part of which is the famous Plough, or Big Dipper asterism.
Here’s a handy finder chart, generated by Stellarium:
So what will you see? Even through very powerful telescopes this supernova will appear as nothing more than a bright dot – looking like a star – embedded within the galaxy M82. It’s so bright compared to M82 that you might be forgiven for thinking that it was a foreground star in our own galaxy, many millions of times closer to us than it actually is. But in fact it’s a star within M82, over 11 million light years away, that has gone through a catastrophic explosion and temporarily brightened until it’s about as bright as all the other stars in that galaxy combined.