More amazing news from the astronomy community this morning - a new supernova (dubbed PSN J09554214+6940260) has just been discovered. Normally this would be a non-issue, since they are discovered constantly at big observatories, however this one is in the M82 galaxy which is in our cosmic neighbourhood at a mere 12 million light years from Earth. That means that this supernova should be visible to backyard astronomers using binoculars, and will allow the professional scientists to gather huge quantities of data which will help to probe numerous models of new physics (including several I worked on as a graduate student). This should be great viewing for those with clear skies, and will provide years of data for the physics community to analyze.

Messier 82 (M82) is also known as the Cigar Galaxy in the constellation Ursa Major. This is the closest supernova since SN 1987A was observed 27 years ago, and which was only 168,000 light years away. As with this supernovae, that one could be seen with the unaided eye and the data that the scientific community collected is still being used to constrain and study new physics models at present.  My own dissertation for example used SN1987A data to study models of higher hidden dimensions in spacetime, while other papers have used it to study dark matter, dark energy, and supersymmetry. It is expected the the M82 event observed this morning will provide similar information (although at this distance, the M82 event will not provide a neutrino flux on Earth like the SN1987A event did, so the data won't be identical), and provide another thirty years of research. 

This supernova is classified as a Type Ia, meaning that it started out as a white dwarf star in a binary system. While the star that produced it was about the size of Earth, it would have been about as massive as our own sun. The gravity of the white dwarf pulled in hydrogen gas from another star in orbit around it. As the growing white dwarf reaches the Chandrasekhar limit of about 1.38 solar masses and collapses in on itself, it eventually gets too big and leads to a large explosion known as carbon detonation. This then begins a self-sustaining fusion reaction, which generates more energy.

This event is expected to be about 5 billion times brighter than the sun. In regions with clear skies, this is bright enough to be seen using binoculars or a small telescope.
 M82 is in the northwestern region of Ursa Major, right above the "head" of the bear. This is the first time such an event will be visible in about thirty years, and it could be another thirty years before another is observed. It is certainly worth going out in the cold and dark to watch a cosmic explosion!