Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Supernova in M82!

Word has spread quickly of the likely Type Ia supernova in nearby galaxy M82 (The cigar Galaxy).  Surely news will continue to flow about this event as professional and amateur astronomers around the world turn telescopes, eyes and cameras toward the galaxy to observe the Supernova.  M82 is only 12 million light years away, which is fairly close as galaxies go.

In an absolutely amazing coincidence, two nights ago I was taking an image of Jupiter and after I finished I decided to take my first look at this galaxy this season.  I was very tired, but as I observed it in my 11-inch SCT I noticed a star in the central portion of the galaxy and thought to myself that I did not recall that star.  Typically I would not know the star patterns around galaxies but it happens that I have observed this galaxy more than perhaps any other galaxy.  You can see my sketch and report on this galaxy in a post I made back in February of 2010.  I even have a wonderful image of it hanging in my office on canvas.  My reaction two nights ago was that somehow I had never noticed this faint star before, and my thought was that as seeing conditions were very good, my new 11 inch telescope was delivering a fine image.  Imagine my surprise today when I heard that there was in fact a supernova!  So in my own way, I feel like I discovered it without any prior knowledge...if only I had put 2 and 2 together!

The best part of the story is that when I called my good friend and astronomy mentor Jerry Farrar today to let him know there was a supernova, his cut me off to exclaim "You are kidding!  I saw that two nights ago!"  He did not know either and described to me its exact we are both reveling in our own independent "discovery" of this transient event.

Tonight I wanted to take a picture of the supernova and that meant I had to attempt my first image of a galaxy.  I used my Canon T2i and the software BackyardEOS attached to my 11 inch Celestron Edge SCT.  Now that I have a little experience stacking images of Jupiter, I took a sequence of 10 images of 15 seconds each at ISO 1600.  I aligned and stacked the images and with a little processing in photoshop ended up with the image below.  It is far from an inspirational image, yet it is really exciting for me to get this result...and of course, it shows the supernova (marked by the red lines)!

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