California astronomers have found the closest, brightest supernova of its kind in 25 years, catching the glimmer of a tiny self-destructing star a mere 21 million light years from Earth and soon visible to amateur skywatchers.
The discovery, announced on Wednesday, was made in what was believed to be the first hours of the rare cosmic explosion using a special telescope at the Palomar Observatory near San Diego and powerful supercomputers at a government laboratory in Berkeley.
The detection so early of a supernova so near has created a worldwide stir among astronomers, who are clamoring to observe it with every telescope at their disposal, including the giant Hubble Space Telescope.
Scientists behind the discovery at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California at Berkeley say the extraordinary phenomenon — labeled by the rather obscure designation PTF 11kly — will likely become the most-studied supernova in history.
“It is an instant cosmic classic,” said Peter Nugent, the senior scientist at UC Berkeley who first spotted it…
It is expected to reach its peak sometime between September 9 and 12, when it will become visible to stargazers using a good pair of binoculars or small telescope.
It will appear, blueish-white, just above and to the left of the last two stars in the Big Dipper handle.
“There are billions of stars in a galaxy. This supernova will outshine them all this weekend,” Nugent told Reuters.
RTFA for details. I’ll be outside tonight trying to catch a peek.