PESSTO snaps supernova in M74

ESO’s PESSTO survey has captured this view of Messier 74, a stunning spiral galaxy with well-defined whirling arms. However, the real subject of this image is the galaxy’s brilliant new addition from late July 2013: a Type II supernova named SN2013ej that is visible as the brightest star at the bottom left of the image.

Such supernovae occur when the core of a massive star collapses due to its own gravity at the end of its life. This collapse results in a massive explosion that ejects material far into space. The resulting detonation can be more brilliant than the entire galaxy that hosts it and can be visible to observers for weeks, or even months.

PESSTO (Public ESO Spectroscopic Survey for Transient Objects) is designed to study objects that appear briefly in the night sky, such as supernovae. It does this by utilising a number of instruments on the NTT (New Technology Telescope), located at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. This new picture of SN2013ej was obtained using the NTT during the course of this survey.

SN2013ej is the third supernova to have been observed in Messier 74 since the turn of the millennium, the other two being SN 2002ap and SN 2003gd. Messier 74, in the constellation of Pisces (The Fish), is one of the most difficult Messier objects for amateur astronomers to spot due to its low surface brightness, but SN2013ej should still be visible to careful amateur astronomers over the next few weeks as a faint and fading star.

Image credit: ESO/PESSTO/S. Smartt

Like a Star Exploding in the Night

Credit: ESO/PESSTO/S. Smartt

Messier 74, a spiral galaxy with well-defined whirling arms, seems stunning enough. However, this image contains another amazing sight: a Type II supernova named SN2013ej, visible as the brightest star at the bottom left of the image. SN2013ej represents the third supernova spotted in Messier 74 since the turn of the millennium, the other two being SN 2002ap and SN 2003gd. The latest supernova was first reported on July 25, 2013 by the KAIT telescope team in California. Amateur astronomer Christina Feliciano took the first “precovery image,” using the public access SLOOH Space Camera to peer at the region in the days and hours immediately before the explosion.

— Tom Chao, via SPACE.com

6

Locating a supernova (SN2013EJ, magnitude 12.6)

  1. opening the dome
  2. adjusting the angle of the 19in telescope
  3. calibration
  4. comparing to other pre-supernova picture
  5. taking a 5-minute-long exposure
  6. overlay of pre- and post- supernova (trust me, even if it looks like that other star near it, it’s not! it’s a supernova!)
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