Astronomers have been stunned by the appearance of a new supernova in the night sky.
A star in the galaxy M82 has exploded - or at least, the light from the explosion 11.5 million years ago just reached Earth - and scientists are hailing it as a spectacular chance to study a relatively rare event.
The supernova is one of the closest to Earth in more than 20 years, only matched by Supernova SN1993J in 1993, and SN1987A (in 1987, obviously).
Supernovae usually occur when massive stars run out of hydrogen fuel and collapse, before releasing vast amounts of energy in a stellar explosion visible across the galaxy.
But in this case the supernova appears to be a 'white dwarf supernova', which occurs when the mass of an isolated white dwarf, with a mass equivalent to that of our Sun but a size similar to the Earth, suddenly grows, collapses and explodes. They can also be caused when two white dwarf stars collide. Scientists will study the explosion as it burns out over the next few days to try and tell which applies in this case.
Astronomers have been posting information about the occurrence since it was spotted.
Why is this new #supernova in M82 exciting? Closest since 1987. Type we use to study dark energy. Binocular-visible. Might get neutrinos.— Katie Mack (@AstroKatie) January 22, 2014
Then a more recent one was flagged up...
Staff at UCL's University of London Observatory - among the first to spot the event - said that the star exploded at around 7.20pm on Tuesday evening, in the galaxy also known as 'The Cigar Galaxy'.
Here is an animation showing the before and after of the supernova from the observers at the Remanzacco Observatory in Italy:
And in further good news, it should get brighter.
Suggest a correction
BUT - the #supernova will probably brighten over coming few weeks and could get to a magnitude of around 8.— Catherine Q. (@CatherineQ) January 22, 2014