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Jan 23 2014

Boom

Last night, or 11.4 million years ago, a star exploded in galaxy M82. These photos are about a month apart.

supernova

I’m looking at that and thinking, “I bet it was warm there.”

It’s expected to get brighter over the next few weeks, to the point where it might be possible to see it with your home telescope or even a pair of binoculars. Over eleven million light years away, and the supernova is going to be faintly visible from my yard.

Revise my earlier sentiment: I bet it was really warm there.

49 comments

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  1. 1
    mjmiller

    “Was” is of course the operative word here. I’d be willing to bet that it was really warm there – 11.4 million years ago. Time travel, this is how it works! Then again, it may be almost as cold out there now as Morris is today (does it get that cold in deep space?).

  2. 2
    janiceintoronto

    I think it’s -very- cool that we live in the future.

  3. 3
    chigau (違う)

    We three kings…

  4. 4
    rq

    We three kings…

    I don’t want to go this time. You take the myrrh.

    +++

    For some reason, this post – photograph, fact of newly exploding star, 11+ million lightyears… – makes me dizzy with… some happy feeling. The universe is active, and I live in it, and it has me in it, and exploding stars and vast distances. Wait, can that possibly be awe and wonder tickling at my heartstrings??
    Thank you, star-watchers!

  5. 5
    robinjohnson

    Here’s how warm it was: if the sun were to go supernova, the intensity of light at this distance would be more than that from the Hiroshima bomb going off. If the bomb went off while pressed against your eyeball.
    (Stolen from a recent xkcd.)

  6. 6
    gussnarp

    Am I the only one really hoping for a Betelgeuse supernova in my lifetime? Preferably hitting peak magnitude around this time of year. I know the odds are slim, but they’re better than winning the lottery, right?

  7. 7
    george gonzalez

    We could use a little bit of that warmth here. My car door locks froze up so I had to crawl in through the back hatch. Much amusement for the folks in the office looking out their windows.

    We should be glad that there are supernovas, they’re probably the source of all the elements beyond Hydrogen and Helium, including the ground below our feet and us too. Weird thinking that all this stuff was up in the millions of degrees at one time.

  8. 8
    jnorris

    WOW!

  9. 9
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    we’re all going to die

  10. 10
    marko

    Am I the only one really hoping for a Betelgeuse supernova in my lifetime?

    I would doubt it. I know I keep looking up at it egging it on thinking it might be teasing me and have already blown up hundreds of years ago.

  11. 11
    woggler

    So that’s another part of god’s creation gone then. One wonders what went wrong.

  12. 12
    beatgroover

    Nothing makes you feel small like being able to see an unimaginably large explosion from 11.4 million light years away. Reminds me of one of my favorite XKCD What If’s. A great quote from it – “The physicist who mentioned this problem to me told me his rule of thumb for estimating supernova-related numbers: However big you think supernovae are, they’re bigger than that.”

  13. 13
    marcoli

    @#6, gussnarp: I too join you in wondering when Betelgeuse will go. Not sure if I would look forward to it. Will it not get warmer here with a second sun in the sky?

  14. 14
    Pete Newell

    …another part of god’s creation gone…

    Not “gone” as such, just … radically redistributed.

    Something something “mysterious ways” something, innit?

  15. 15
    marko

    @13 marcoli
    From my limited understanding, we wouldn’t feel it’s warmth, but it would be clearly visible during the day and probably the brightest thing in the sky at night – the moon included. I stand ready to be corrected.

  16. 16
    Rob Grigjanis

    george gonzalez @7:

    …supernovas…probably the source of all the elements beyond Hydrogen and Helium

    Ordinary nuclear fusion can create elements up to iron, although supernovae account for the abundance of some of the lighter elements, and maybe half of the heavier ones.

  17. 17
    Rob Grigjanis

    Pete Newell @14:

    radically redistributed

    The Cosmos is Socialist!

  18. 18
    mothra

    Just think, 11.5 million years ago, our ancestors were enjoying a perfictly nice Pliocene day and in another galaxy, intellegent life was shortly to be wiped out.

    @BDC- Yeah, but anything about the super nova?

  19. 19
    marko

    Doesn’t sound like I’m too far off the mark based on this

  20. 20
    Naked Bunny with a Whip

    Great. Another thing for AGW denialists to blame climate change on.

  21. 21
    Usernames are smart

    …eleven million light years away…

    I love the light-year unit measure, because it tells you how far and how long ago at the same time.

    The star went supernova 11,000,000 years ago and it is (11×10^6) * (2.9×10^8) = 3.29×10^15 metres [2.1x10^12 miles] away!

    This is a joy literal followers of bibble deny themselves.

    Nine times seven, thought Shuman with deep satisfaction, is sixty-three, and I don’t need a computer to tell me so. The computer is in my own head.

    And it was amazing the feeling of power that gave him.
    — Issac Asimov, “The Feeling of Power”

  22. 22
    David Marjanović

    Here’s how warm it was: if the sun were to go supernova, the intensity of light at this distance would be more than that from the Hiroshima bomb going off. If the bomb went off while pressed against your eyeball.
    (Stolen from a recent xkcd.)

    Comment 12 kindly provides the link. And there it says:

    Which of the following would be brighter, in terms of the amount of energy delivered to your retina:

    A supernova, seen from as far away as the Sun is from the Earth, or

    The detonation of a hydrogen bomb pressed against your eyeball?

    Applying the physicist rule of thumb [quoted in comment 12] suggests that the supernova is brighter. And indeed, it is … by nine orders of magnitude.

    Got that? Press a billion Hiroshima bombs against your eyeball which is much bigger on the outside than on the inside, and you get the experience of watching a supernova from one astronomical unit away.

  23. 23
    opposablethumbs

    Wonderful. Full of wonder, utterly wonderful – the event itself, and the fact that we on this vanishingly tiny scrap of dust can observe and measure a huge cosmic event that happened millions of years before our prehistoric ancestors existed. (doesn’t sound quite as nice as “wonderful”, but I think we get to call this “mind-boggling” too :-) )

  24. 24
    Rey Fox

    We three kings…

    Smoking on a rubber cigar…

  25. 25
    CaitieCat, getaway driver

    Wow. Just…wow. Awe and wonder indeed. For some reason it’s given me a more dynamic picture of what our galaxy is, not just rotating in a grand dance, but occasionally exploding too (yes, I know the 11.5 Mly is well outside our galaxy, but I can picture a galaxy in my head, I can’t picture 11.5 Mly, so the mental picture I form is of a galaxy in an active, moving sense).

    I’ve been hoping for Betelgeuse to go since I heard it was possible. If it went in the last 600 years, then I’ll have a reasonable chance of seeing it. That’d be way cool. It’s awesome to think that it’s both close enough to be daylight-visible, and far enough away that LIGHT will take 640 years to get here.

    Awe and wonder.

  26. 26
    busterggi

    “I bet it was really warm there.”

    It ain’t the heat, its the humidity.

  27. 27
    Raging Bee

    …supernovas…probably the source of all the elements beyond Hydrogen and Helium…

    “Source” as in, how all those higher elements get out from inside the starts where they’re created.

  28. 28
    Patrik Holmstrom

    The SN at magnitude below 12 is already visible even in a small amateur telescope. How small depends on good/bad your light pollution is.

  29. 29
    Alex the Pretty Good

    A long time ago in a galaxy far, far (at least for human understanding) away …

    That’s no sun exploding … that’s Alderaan!

  30. 30
    madtom1999

    In 744 a red cross was seen in the sky from the UK which was probably a planetary nebula like this http://www.astro.washington.edu/users/balick/WFPC2/n6537.jpeg
    I wonder if Beetlejuice will go off like that first?

  31. 31
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    I love being reminded that looking up at night means that I am looking into the past :) the idea fills me with such a sense of awe and happiness that nothing else can match.

  32. 32
    Rob Grigjanis

    george gonzalez @7: Correcting my #16, looks like you’re right. I didn’t know the heavier (than H, He) elements probably originally came from first generation supernovae.

  33. 33
    mjmiller

    And all because they were too arrogant to believe that a single seat fighter could shoot a torpedo into a shaft not much smaller than a womp-rat a long time ago in a galaxy 11.4m light years away.

  34. 34
    mjmiller

    oops, Alex beat me to it!

  35. 35
    kevinalexander

    M82? Isn’t that the name of a firecracker?

  36. 36
    Allan Frost

    M82? Isn’t that the name of a firecracker?

    It’s the name of a band almost as good as M83.

  37. 37
    Allan Frost

    woggler @11

    So that’s another part of god’s creation gone then. One wonders what went wrong.

    I know, right? God only sends the occasional hurricane to punish us for having non-reproductive sex on this planet. What the hell were those folks doing to warrant blowing up their whole star.

  38. 38
    Sili

    Rev. BigDumbChimp,

    we’re all going to die

    Yes, but what does that have to do with supernovae?

  39. 39
    Snoof

    I didn’t know the heavier (than H, He) elements probably originally came from first generation supernovae.

    Isn’t lithium believed to have begun with the Big Bang?

    Something to do with the fact that it doesn’t show up in regular fusion processes or supernovae.

  40. 40
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    I remember someone saying that Lithium was almost certainly created in the BB, but I can’t remember for certain whether they said **all** of our current Li was created then. From what I remember, there was more recent creation of Li, but I don’t know the pathway, so don’t consider this reliable in any way.

    I might look it up later if I have any time online available to me.

  41. 41
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    According to wikipedia, Li is created through stellar nucleosynthesis, but the energy required to fuse Li is less than that to fuse H, so it gets burned as soon as it gets created. There will always be a small amount floating around, but our Li is primarily from decay from 7Be and 10Be and from particle fusion in the solar wind through chance high energy collisions that don’t have high odds of subsequent hi energy collisions on the part of the Li products.

    7Li and 6Li are both highly stable, but 7Li is more stable than 6Li, it appears. unless it is simply generated much more frequently as 7Li makes up 92.5% of natural Li.

  42. 42
    Rob Grigjanis

    Snoof @39: It’s a bitter pill, apparently.

  43. 43
    twas brillig (stevem)

    re Raging Bee @27:

    …supernovas…probably the source of all the elements beyond Hydrogen and Helium…

    “Source” as in, how all those higher elements get out from inside the starts where they’re created.

    WRONG! Fusion in a star can ONLY create elements up to the mass of Iron (Fe). When a star creates Fe, it results in (nearly) instant death of the star. Only the energy released during a supernova can fuse Fe into heavier elements.
    Not to imply anything, but I was always amused by the coincidence of God being defeated by iron chariots. But Iron is a death poison to stars (of any mass).

  44. 44
    Rob Grigjanis

    Only the energy released during a supernova can fuse Fe into heavier elements.

    No, there’s the S-process as well.

  45. 45
    zetopan

    “The star went supernova 11,000,000 years ago and it is (11×10^6) * (2.9×10^8) = 3.29×10^15 metres [2.1x10^12 miles] away!”

    Not really. While you have the general idea correct you have left out a couple of rather important items
    from your calculation. Your above approximations contain some rounding and other numerical errors but
    I will mostly ignore those here since those errors are relatively minor (e.g. to 2 digits of accuracy C=3.0e8)
    and the Hubble expansion rate is currently only known to within approximately 15% (65 km/sec/Mpc, with
    further revisions being highly likely).

    1. The universe is expanding. Hence the light that was emitted 11e6 years ago show where the star was
    at that time. Thus it *was* about 3.4e15 meters distant from Earth. However, the light from that star is
    red shifted, indicating movement away from Earth at about 203 km/s, so at our present time that star is
    physically *much* farther away than your simple calculation indicates, since we are seeing where it was
    over 11 million years ago and it has moved a great distance farther away since then. The movement over
    an 11.4e6 year time frame is about 7.3e19 meters farther away in fact. Notice that the change in distance
    totally swamps the approximate 3.4e15 meters, by more than 4 orders of magnitude.

    This is why the age of the visible universe is about 13.8e9 years while the diameter, based on a constant
    Hubble expansion rate is about 92e9 LY. If we ignore the Hubble expansion rate, the estimated diameter
    would only be about 2 * 13.8e9 LY or about 28e9 LY. Some further measurements have placed the total
    size of the universe at greater than or equal to 250 times that 92e9 LY diameter, suggesting that it may be
    infinite. The 92e9 LY diameter refers to only the visible portion of the universe while the 250X larger value
    includes those parts of the universe that are not visible.

    2. A further complication is that the Hubble expansion rate of the universe is actually increasing rather than
    remaining constant. Hence the calculation of distances is somewhat more difficult than the above examples
    would indicate.

  46. 46
    Rob Grigjanis

    Notice that the change in distance totally swamps the approximate 3.4e15 meters, by more than 4 orders of magnitude.

    But the initial calculation was wrong. Ball park: 10^7 (ly) x 10^16 (m in ly) = 10^23 m, for the initial distance.

    Your delta of about 10^20 m is OK, so the change in distance due to expansion is about 3 orders of magnitude less than the initial distance.

  47. 47
    ajb47

    I love being reminded of the wonders in the rest of the universe like this. I mean, I get bogged down in Earthly matters like marriage equality and women’s rights to their own bodies and music and TV shows and sometimes the vastness and awesomosity (yeah, I know dotted red underline, that’s not a word) of the universe gets mixed into the background noise.

    Then things like this get posted, and I just get gobsmacked. 11.4 million years ago. And we (the human race) caught it within the last month. And some folks will be able to see it with binoculars. Not a powerful telescope — binoculars. “Boom” is a great description of what this kind of information does to me.

    Has anyone come across which area of the sky someone in southeastern Pennsylvania should look with a 300mm telephoto lens to try to capture some of it? If it might be at all possible here.

  48. 48
    Rob Grigjanis

    ajb47 @47: This is a lousy picture, but M82 is in the upper right quadrant, and you should be able to find The Big Dipper in Pennsylvania :)

    http://sci.esa.int/science-e-media/img/c4/heic0801h410.jpg

  49. 49
    drksky

    The Bad Astronomer recently did a lengthy exposition on why we shouldn’t be waiting for Betelgeuse to supernova, instead we should be looking to SBW1. Yeah, not nearly as good a name, but much more likely to pop in our lifetimes.

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