M82 Supernova 2014J Update … See It LIVE This Afternoon

Supernova 2014J is visible in 4-inch and larger telescopes and currently shines around magnitude 11. Credit: Katzman Automatic Imaging Telescope / LOSS

The recent bright supernova SN 2014J discovered in the M82, the Cigar Galaxy, earlier this week has brightened up to magnitude 10.5 by some estimates. While I saw it last night at 11.5, I’m not complaining. Beginning and amateur astronomers the world over have been out braving the cold to get a look at this stellar beacon.

Don’t have a telescope but want to see a live image? Check out the Virtual Telescope Project 2.0 featuring Italian astrophysicist Gianluca Masi on astrowebtv.org . Starting this afternoon (Jan. 25) at 2:30 p.m. CST you can join the online observing session.

Lots more data on the supernova has been pouring in. Here’s what we know so far:

Wide field photo showing M82 “The Cigar Galaxy” and its true physical neighbor M81. The supernova is marked. Hundreds of supernovae are found each year by wide-ranging professional and amateur surveys of thousands of galaxies. The last recorded supernova visible with the naked eye in the Milky Way galaxy was in 1604. Click to learn more. Credit: Joseph Brimacombe

* SN 2014J is a Type Ia-HV supernova. HV stands for high-velocity and indicates that explosive gases have been rushing outward from the obliterated star at exceptional speeds. Early measurements on Jan. 22 clocked clouds of gas at over 12,400 miles per second (20,000 km/sec). To put this in context, the debris would make the trip from California to Maine in 1/4 second.

* Astronomers estimate it was discovered about a week before maximum brightness. That would indicate a peak on or around Jan. 29.

* SN 2014J is “highly reddened”, meaning that there is a great deal of dust in the host galaxy it has to shine through for its light to reach us. Without reddening, the explosion would be even brighter.

* White dwarf stars – one of which was the progenitor of this M82 supernova – are typically made of carbon and oxygen, the waste products left by the fusion of hydrogen and helium during the star’s lifetime. Once a star becomes a white dwarf it’s done fusing elements, so it twiddles its thumbs cooling off over the next trillion years.

Spectrum of supernova 2014J taken on Jan. 25, 2014 by William Wiethoff of Port Wing, Wisconsin U.S. shows the light of silicon at 6099.91 angstroms in the orange part of the visible spectrum. At the time, the star’s debris was traveling toward us at about 7,500 miles (12,000 km) per second. Inset photo and diagram: William Wiethoff

BUT … when it explodes as a supernova, waste carbon and oxygen fuse in the fury of heat and pressure to create a new element, silicon. That’s exactly what astronomers are seeing now in SN 2014J’s spectrum, a map of the star’s light made with a spectrograph. Spectrographs spread out a star’s light to “fingerprint” the elements of which it’s composed. Silicon is also produced “naturally” by fusion in the cores of supergiant stars, some of which can explode as Type II supernovae.

Silicon combined with oxygen is the most common compound in Earth’s crust. Next time you admire an agate or feel the sand between your toes, look up and thank a supernova.

Updated sketch of M82, the supernova and nearby stars with magnitudes shown. To make your own chart, click image to go to the AAVSO star plotter, then type in SN 2014J in the “Name” box. Illustration: Bob King

5 Responses

    1. astrobob

      Not easy to say. Magnitudes can be a little loosy-goosy. I’ve already seen mag. 10.0 from one astrophotographer on 1/23. Using good charts from the AAVSO I have yet to see it get brighter visually than mag. 11.4. That’s what it was last night. Perhaps 11 visually? There’s lots of dust in that supernova’s trying to shine through, so it won’t get as bright compared to it happened in a more dust-free region of the galaxy.

  1. Norman Sanker

    Hey Bob,
    I managed to find the supernova in M82 around 4:00 this AM. I polar aligned the C-8, then realized I wouldn’t be able to see that part of the sky at all–eyepiece and finder both inaccessible. I turned the scope to use it alt-azimuth which showed promise but I certainly didn’t feel confident. In binoculars, there was a bright triangle of stars in the general area and, off to the right, a tiny blob that turned out to be M81. I remembered that a bright-ish adjacent star pointed through M81 to M82 and I spotted the supernova immediately. It’s at least as clear as that chain of stars that lead right to it and does seem to be roughly equal to the combined light of its home galaxy. Wow. About 100X is a good magnification once you’ve found it. Again, wow.

    Norman Sanker

    1. astrobob

      Hi Norman,
      Quite a journey. Congratulations on finding the bugger! Good news – I’ve been watching it the past four or five nights and it’s magnitude has been slowly rising. I estimated 11.1 last night.

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