Supernova SN 2014J

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Take a good hard look, because this will be us in a few billion years.

On January 21, 2014 amateur astronomers with modest telescopes could easily pick out the spectacular supernova explosion in Galaxy M82. The supernova, designated SN 2014J is the closest supernova explosion in the recent decade. It is a very special supernova, thought to be a Type 1a, which is triggered by a white dwarf-an ancient small start that is the stellar husk of a star approximately the same mass as our sun-accumulating material from a binary partner star. When the accumulated mass reaches a certain threshold, the bloated white dwarf ignites a supernova. As the threshold of material is very specific, which generates a very specific quantity of energy, Type 1a supernovae are used by astronomers as “standard candles” to measure the scale of the Universe. If you know the amount of energy released by this supernova, no matter where it is in the cosmos, you can precisely measure your distance from it.

Credit: Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Goobar (Stockholm University), and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

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