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Brighter and Faster


A research group at UC Berkeley has made new studies of the supernova SN 2014J, photographed for the first time last month by Hubble. Finding that not only the celestial object is brighter than expected, but it also exploded at a rate much higher than average.

SN 2014J

These Swift UVOT images show M82 before (left) and after the new supernova (right). The pre-explosion view combines data taken between 2007 and 2013. The view showing SN 2014J (arrow) merges three exposures taken on Jan. 22, 2014. Mid-ultraviolet light is shown in blue, near-UV light in green, and visible light in red. The image is 17 arcminutes across, or slightly more than half the apparent diameter of a full moon.

Source/Image credit: NASA/Swift/P. Brown, TAMU

Brighter and flashier than ever, it continues to be talked about. It is the supernova SN 2014J , the indefatigable Hubble discovered a few time ago.

To be precise, the first to put his eyes on the bright object in the sky was a university professor, who on the night of January 21 was to observe the sky with his students in astrophysics. It has identified one of the most luminous supernovas ever observed in recent times, after immortalized by the NASA/ESA telescope.

SN 2014J , which is located in the galaxy M82 is 11.4 million light-years away, and it might be the closest type of supernova (i.e. created by the explosion of a white dwarf) found in the last 77 years. Even alone, it was enough to make the object of particular interest, because the proximity will allow astronomers to explore the environment around the supernova, literally reconstructing the dynamics of the explosion.

SN 2014J 3

Source/Image credit: NASA/Swift/P. Brown, TAMU

But now new details have emerged that make the bright SN 2014J even more intriguing; it is not only brighter than the average, but apparently it has also turned much faster than expected. This is what a UC Berkeley astronomer, Alex Filippenko discovered, who, with his research group has sought traces of the supernova data collected by the telescope KAIT (Katzman Automatic Imaging Telescope). Discovering that the eye of the robotic telescope had in fact already taken a picture of the supernova on January 14, astronomers have combined these observations with those of a Japanese amateur astronomer and have found that the lighting speed of SN 2014J was strangely very high. This means that the explosion probably occurred in less time than expected.

But there’s even more: the data also showed that the supernova had the same unusual behavior of another celestial object of the same type identified by KAIT last year, the supernova SN 2013dy.

“If two of the most recent type of supernovae discoveries are strange, this gives us new insight into how stars explode,” Filippenko said, referring to a third supernova, seemingly “normal”, discovered three years ago and named SN 2011fe. “It may well be that we understand new things that do not yet know, and that this strange behavior will become the new normal.”

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