Astronomers have spotted "the supernova of a generation," and it's exploding right now

Astronomers are calling a supernova first sighted just two days ago an "Instant Cosmic Classic." Not only is the supernova brighter and closer to Earth (around 21 million light-years) than any we've observed in a generation, scientists actually managed to catch the supernova within hours of its explosion, making it the youngest supernova we've ever detected.

The supernova, which astronomers have named PTF 11kly, was discovered exploding in the Pinwheel Galaxy by Peter Nugent, the senior astronomer at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. (The Pinwheel Galaxy can be spotted by star-gazers in the Big Dipper constellation.)


"We caught this supernova very soon after explosion. PTF 11kly is getting brighter by the minute. It's already 20 times brighter than it was yesterday," said Nugent. "Observing PTF 11kly unfold should be a wild ride. It is an instant cosmic classic."

This series of images shows how PTF 11kly has been steadily increasing in brightness over the last few days (click to enlarge). According to materials provided by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory:

The left image taken on August 22 shows the event before it exploded supernova, approximately 1 million times fainter than the human eye can detect. The center image taken on August 23 shows the supernova at about 10,000 times fainter than the human eye can detect. The right image taken on August 24 shows that the event is 6 times brighter than the previous day.


The supernova is expected to continue increasing in intensity for another two weeks, by which point astronomers say it should be visibile in the night sky with a standard pair of binoculars.

For more information on PTF 11kly and why it's one of the most important supernovas ever discovered, visit The Berkeley Lab.
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