A white dwarf exploded last night up in the Cigar Galaxy (also known as M82 to its friends), creating the closest supernova we've seen in the last 25 years — and one of the brightest, too.
Top image: Emerging supernova in M82 / via Ernesto Guido, Nick Howes, Martino Nicolini of Remanzacco Observator.
Images of the supernova are still coming in, and the final call from the International Astronomical Union's Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams (the ruling body on supernova classification) hasn't yet been finalized. But the very first images may have come from the University of London's teaching observatory, where students and teachers, led by supernova discoverer Steve Fossey, caught this set of before and after images. The top image was taken on December 10th; then they reshot the area on January 21st, this time picking up the rapidly brightening supernova (which you can see marked on the image.)
Image: Before and after shots of the M82 galaxy, catching the appearance of the supernova — UCL/University of London Observatory/Steve Fossey/Ben Cooke/Guy Pollack/Matthew Wilde/Thomas Wright.
Of course, the closeness of the supernova is relative — neighboring galaxy M82 is still about 12-million light years away from us. But at that distance and brightness, the over-skies drama unfolding is easily within range of scientific observatories, and might even be able to be caught on a backyard telescope.
The as yet unnamed supernova, which scientists are temporarily referring to by the not terribly catchy PSN_J09554214+6940260, has been classified as a Type Ia supernova, a supernova formed by either the collision or, in this case, explosion of a star. They're also commonly used by astronomers to measure distances across the universe.
More details about the supernova are yet to come as scientists continue to observe the supernova in action, in the meantime, check out this animation of the supernova as it appears from out of the darkness, made by Remanzacco Observatory:
Animation: Supernova appearing in M82 / via Ernesto Guido, Nick Howes, Martino Nicolini of Remanzacco Observatory.