A new gem sparkles in Berenice’s hair. Supernova 2013 df burst to light in the spiral galaxy NGC 4414 in the constellation Coma Berenices (Queen Berenice’s Hair). The exploding star was discovered on June 7 by four Italian amateur astronomers who are members of the Italian Supernova Search Project (ISSP).
The supernova shimmers at about 13th magnitude – on the brighter side for a star going boom 62 million light years away – and is visible from dark skies in telescopes 8 inches or larger. The host galaxy is moderately small but bright at 10th magnitude and very easy to spot in smaller scopes. Pinned to its northeast side along the outer rim of the galaxy’s hazy disk, the supernova is hard to miss. You can try for it anytime starting at the end of evening twilight until 2 or 3 a.m. Earlier is better because the galaxy’s higher in the sky. I caught a view of this “new star” two nights ago around 11 o’clock in my 15-inch scope. Very easy to see.
Tagged as a Type IIb supernova, 2013df star-like appearance only hints at the enormous violence involved in its creation. Type II supernova explosions occur in supergiant stars at least 8 times more massive than the sun that burn through the nuclear fuel in their cores until it’s exhausted.
When the burning stops, so does the pressure from heat that counteracts the ever-present force of gravity. Result: the star collapses in upon itself, creating shock waves that blast it to bits in a titanic explosion.
The enormous energy released makes the former supergiant suddenly brighten by millions of times. That’s why even amateur telescopes can pick up this titanic event across millions of light years.
The “b” in Type IIb indicates a star that’s lost hydrogen gas in its outer atmosphere before the catastrophe.
For more information, updates and photos on 2013df, check out Dave Bishop’s Latest Supernovae site.