Watching a Star Explode
What appears to be an extra-bright star in one of its spiral arms actually is the light flash of a supernova. In this case, M95's latest supernova, SN 2012aw, was discovered on March 16 and now is identified as the explosion of a massive star.
"When I learned about the discovery of this supernova, I decided I could do without sleep for a night and try and take a good picture of this cosmic catastrophe," said Block, an astrophotographer. Collecting the light with the telescope took about three hours, followed by another three hours to assemble the final image.
The Schulman Telescope is large enough to clearly see both the galaxy and the supernova, which looks like a bright star, Block said.
Massive stars are the universe's hot, fast and furious: Ranging in mass from eight times to about 300 times the mass of our sun, they burn brighter than other stars, use up their fuel faster and go out with a bang of truly cosmic proportions.
"When you see the galaxy, you are looking at the combined glow of hundreds of billions of stars that are in that galaxy," Block said. "The fact that supernova rivals the brightness of the entire galaxy tells you something about how much energy is released."
Massive stars are rare, and astronomers must look many thousands of light years away from the Earth to discover one. Because they are difficult to see the further away they are, astronomers have yet to discover massive stars outside our own galaxy, the Milky Way.
Read the entire release here.