Supernova in M82 Passes Its Peak

This post relates to a previous news event - the rise of Supernova M82 in February of 2014. To learn more about Supernova M82 and other astronomical happenings, make sure to check out our categories for night sky news, galaxies, the solar system and other areas of stellar science. If you want more about supernovas, be sure to check out a supernova in technicolor.

Last updated February 18th.

Supernova in Messier 82
The supernova in M82 as imaged by Leonid Elenin (Lyubertsy, Russia) and I. Molotov (Moscow, Russia) on Jan. 22.396. It's located at right ascension 9h 55m 42.2s, declination +69° 40′ 26″. It was V magnitude 11.7 at the time.
Leonid Elenin
On January 21st a group of astronomy students spotted a supernova in M82, the famous nearby irregular galaxy in Ursa Major. It peaked at V magnitude 10.5 during the first week of February, and as of February 17th it was still about magnitude 11.2. Follow the ongoing preliminary light curve provided by the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO). The supernova is still showing an orange tint due to reddening by dust within M82.

Spectra show it to be a Type Ia supernova — an exploded white dwarf — with debris originally expanding at up to 20,000 kilometers per second. Because it appears reddened, it must also be dimmed by dust along our line of sight. By one estimate, it would be two magnitudes brighter if we were seeing it in the clear.

Supernova in Messier 82
Ernesto Guido / Nick Howes / Martino Nicolini
M82 is a near neighbor as galaxies go, at a distance of 11 or 12 million light-years. It's a favorite for amateur astronomers and researchers alike with its thick dust bands, sprays of hydrogen gas, and bright center undergoing massive star formation. The supernova is not in the central star-forming region but off to one side, 58 arcseconds to the west-southwest.

Remarkably, the supernova went undiscovered for nearly a week as it brightened. Prediscovery unfiltered CCD images by Koichi Itagaki of Yamagata, Japan, show nothing at its location to as faint as magnitude 17.0 through January 14.5. But it was magnitude 14.4 on January 15.6, 13.9 on January 16th, 13.3 on January 17th, 12.2 on January 19th, and 11.9 on January 20th. (Images.) So the actual explosion occurred (from Earth's viewpoint) late on January 14th or early on the 15th Universal Time.

Where to Look

M82 is well up in the northeast after nightfall (for observers at mid-northern latitudes). A window of moonless dark begins to open after nightfall around February 16th, depending on your location.

Here's a comparison-star chart from the AAVSO. On the chart north is up, east is left, and the field is ½° wide; star magnitudes are given to the nearest tenth with the decimal point omitted. The galaxy shows up as an elongated swarm of faint dots. (If you want other parameters, you can make your own chart using the AAVSO Variable Star Plotter; for star name enter SN 2014J.)

Here's the preliminary light curve with photometry shown in the B, V, and R bands (blue, "visual," and red light) as well as eyeball estimates (shown black). The light curve is developing just as expected for a reddened Type Ia supernova.

Here's a wide-field view of M81 and M82 including the supernova, for a broader perspective.

On the AAVSO discussion thread for SN 2014J, Chris Stephan of Wooster, Ohio, said on January 31st,

One thing that I noticed at the telescope is that the comp[arison] stars are pinpoint. There seems like a slight nebulosity around the SN. I'll bet this is from all the galactic dust in M82, and the billions of stars in it that seem so close [to it] from our distance. Has anyone else noticed this?

Others say they've noticed this too and that it has interfered with their visual magnitude estimates.

Supernova in M82
S&T senior editor Dennis di Cicco captured M82's supernova on the evening of January 23rd with an Officina Stellare 12-inch f/7.9 RiDK 305 astrograph.
S&T: Dennis di Cicco & Sean Walker
A Flukey Find

The first people to recognize the supernova were a group of students — Ben Cooke, Tom Wright, Matthew Wilde and Guy Pollack, assisted by teaching fellow Stephen J. Fossey — taking a quick image at the University of London Observatory (within the London city limits!) on the evening of January 21st at 19:20 UT.

"The discovery was a fluke," says a university press release,

—a 10-minute telescope workshop for undergraduate students that led to a global scramble to acquire confirming images and spectra.

"The weather was closing in, with increasing cloud," Fossey says. "So instead of the planned practical astronomy class, I gave the students an introductory demonstration of how to use the CCD camera on one of the observatory’s automated 0.35-meter telescopes."

The students chose M82, a bright and photogenic galaxy, as their target, as it was in one of the shrinking patches of clear sky. While adjusting the telescope’s position, Fossey noticed a star overlaid on the galaxy which he did not recognise from previous observations.

They inspected online archive images of the galaxy, and it became apparent that there was indeed a new starlike object in M82. With clouds closing in, they switched to taking a rapid series of 1- and 2-minute exposures through different colour filters to check that the object persisted, and to be able to measure its brightness and colour.

The original press release, and a BBC story repeating it, claimed that this is the nearest supernova since Supernova 1987A in the Large Magellanic Cloud. In fact, SN 1993J in M81 was at essentially the same distance within the uncertainties, and two subsequent supernovae, SN 2004am and SN 2008iz (an obscured radio supernova), occurred within M82 itself.

However, this is said to be the nearest Type Ia supernova since 1972. That's the kind that is so valuable for measuring the size and expansion rate of the universe. Despite the dimming and reddening, astronomers hope that SN 2014J will provide new details about exactly what happens in these "standard-candle" explosions.

Supernova in Another Messier Galaxy

A fainter supernova, SN 2014L, has appeared in M99 in Coma Berenices high in the late-night sky. It was only magnitude 15.7 as of January 28.4 UT, after being discovered about magnitude 17.2 on January 26th. More information and images.

It was reported at V magnitude 15.1 on February 2nd, 14.5 on the 5th, and 14.7 on the 13th.

M99 is a spiral galaxy about 50 million light-years away in the Virgo Cluster, four times as far as M82. It has hosted three previous known supernovae (1967H, 1972Q, and 1986I) and the odd lesser outburst PTF 10fqs.

26 thoughts on “Supernova in M82 Passes Its Peak

  1. Anthony BarreiroAnthony Barreiro

    This is very exciting news, thanks. I’m glad I happened to check the S&T website today. Tonight, Wednesday January 22, was already going to be interesting, with Algol at minimum brightness at 2220 PST, Europa and Europa’s shadow transiting Jupiter from 2018 to 2352 PST, and Jupiter’s great red spot at the central meridian at 2232 PST. We’re having a drought here in California, so the weather has been remarkably good for skywatching. I’ll add M82’s supernova to my list for tonight. By the way, Sky and Telescope used to send out occasional email alerts for special events like supernovae. Do you still do this? Do I need to sign up again?

  2. Jon Hanford

    Not only was SN1993J in M81 at about the same distance, two supernovae have appeared in M82 since 1987, SN2004am and SN2008iz(a radio supernova). SN2004am, a Type II-P SN, appeared very close to the position of the current SN:

    Additional info on these two supernovae in M82 can be found here:

  3. Paul Vondra

    My 86-year-old mother passed away this afternoon, peacefully, at home, after suffering a second stroke on Monday. She never regained consciousness. Unscientific though it is, I will always think of this as her Special Guidelight as she sets sail across that Vast and Unknown Sea.
    I live in Pittsburgh where it has been cloudy and bitterly cold since I first heard of the supernova yesterday but I intend to set up my scope the first clear chance i get regardless of the temp. to see it. The only other supernova I’ve ever seen was the one in M101 a year or two back and I’m hoping this one may get a little brighter.

  4. Bruce Mayfield

    Paul, sorry to read of your loss. I lost my mother a few years back. While we know scientifically that astronomical and human events are unrelated, seeing something special at a time of great loss can bring comfort, so I hope you are able to personally observe SN2014J, and may your heart be warmed when you do. But science alone doesn’t offer much hope though. Reflecting on these verses were some of the many that brought me hope and comfort when my mother passed; Job 14:14,15 and Acts 24:15.

  5. Tom HoffelderTom Hoffelder

    Happy to see the "very tentative" prediction of mag 10.1 as the maximum. I have seen other sources saying as bright as 8. They must be ignoring the reddening caused by dust.

  6. Bruce

    That’s one of my favorite verses too Mrvair.
    I hope to see this, but only have 10×50 binoculars. In a fairly dark sky, what appartent magnatude would this SN have to reach to be detectable?

  7. Hal Lane

    This PDF:
    "Limiting Magnitude in Binoculars"

    answers your question: "what appartent magnatude would
    this SN have to reach to be detectable [in 10×50 binos]?"
    — but you’ll have to do a bit of reading to find it…

    Note that the author of the paper used a tripod and
    averted vision (looking very slightly away from the object
    being looked for) for their tests…

    In the PDF the 3rd page has a list of useful abbreviations
    used in the paper.

    Please post whether you were able to see 2014J or not, and
    the circumstances (sky darkness, etc.) of your attempt!
    – Hal Lane

  8. Hal Lane

    This PDF:
    "Limiting Magnitude in Binoculars"

    answers your question: "what appartent magnatude would
    this SN have to reach to be detectable [in 10×50 binos]?"
    — but you’ll have to do a bit of reading to find it…

    Note that the author of the paper used a tripod and
    averted vision (looking very slightly away from the object
    being looked for) for their tests…

    In the PDF the 3rd page has a list of useful abbreviations
    used in the paper.

    Please post whether you were able to see 2014J or not, and
    the circumstances (sky darkness, etc.) of your attempt!
    – Hal Lane

  9. Casper Wojtan

    As an amateur astronomer on a VERY basic level, I get confused when the article says "So the actual explosion occurred late on January 14th or early on the 15th Universal Time". Should the article not say "the explosion became visible to us on the 14th?. From what I understand the actual explosion must have taken place 11 milliion years ago…… Or was I sleeping in class at some point…..

  10. MHKB

    Binocular view : Please bear in mind that younger Astronomers age 20
    or so have a better chance of opening the eye’s iris up to 8 mm diameter.
    Obviously, this helps viewing stars compared to what is available to the
    elderly of us – max. 3.5 to 4 mm iris’ diameter , depending on age.
    Regards, Mike

  11. Anthony BarreiroAnthony Barreiro

    We observed this supernova at Chabot observatory in Oakland, California on Saturday night January 25, through hazy skies and moderate light pollution. Through an 8-inch schmidt cassegrain M82 and the supernova were faintly visible. Through Chabot’s flagship 36-inch cassegrain, M82 showed a lot of detail and the supernova stood out like a lighthouse! Visitors who were not experienced observers and may have learned what a supernova is while they were standing in line were able to see it easily and understand what it is. Seeing an individual star that’s 12 million light years away shining more brightly than all the other billions of stars in its galaxy was a very dramatic experience. This supernova has a lot more wow factor than supernova 2011FE in M101 had. Being about half as far, SN 2013J is about four times as bright!

  12. Tom HoffelderTom Hoffelder

    Assuming that Mr. Quimby’s prediction is close to being correct (SN performance is somewhat easier to predict than comet or aurora, if you consider dust!), the best views of 2014J will probably be this week (1/26-2/1), especially if you want to observe it early in the evening.

    Why? First there is of course the moon, which sets later and later starting next week. If you really want to see it well, there is no reason to look when the moon is in the sky.

    Then there is the magnitude itself. It is currently brightening thru 11th magnitude, and a difference of 0.5 mag is not very noticeable, unless you can see it at 10.5 and 11 at the same time, which of course you can’t. In checking the AAVSO light curves of three type Ia events (that I observed in recent years, 2011by, 2011fe and 2012cg), all three dropped 1/2 mag in about 12 days. That means by Valentine’s Day 2014J will be a little less bright than it will be this week, and getting dimmer. Since full moon is on the 14th, it won’t be out of the way in the early evening until after that. So this is the week that was for seeing the SN in the evening!

    P.S. How many supernovae are not a surprise?

  13. Kevin Stanley

    Using a 10" dob, I was able to see SN 2014J fairly easily on 1/25 from fairly light-polluted skies (NELM was probably about 4). Of course it’s a lot easier to grab binoculars and pop outside than it is to drag out the telescope, so I’ve been hoping that the "visible in binoculars" predictions would prove true. So far (as of 1/27/14) I haven’t had any luck. And after viewing that paper from cloudy nights (thanks, Hal) I’m thinking it’s not going to happen. If I had slightly darker skies and a way to keep my 15X70s totally still, it might be possible even now; some are reporting it’s at mag 10.5 or just slightly brighter. That might be do-able under the right circumstances.

    However, in the conditions I actually have–light polluted skies, and hand-held (if I’m going to set up a tripod and attach the binoculars, I might as well bring out the scope)–I’d probably need it to brighten up to 9.5 or better. It already looks like the light curve is flattening out now, at 10.5…I don’t think it’s going to get to 9.5 (much less 8 as some have guessed).

    I’d love to be wrong, but as of now I don’t think this is going to be a binocular supernova for me.

  14. Joshua Barnes

    After several days of completely cloudy weather here in Honolulu, I just got a quick look at the M82 Sn. I used a 15" f 4.5 reflector with 27mm and 13mm eyepieces — far more aperture than necessary, but I’m well inside the city limits and my limiting magnitude w/o optical aid is ~4. The Sn was easy to see with direct vision, even through passing clouds.

    Using the AAVSO chart provided above, I estimate the Sn has apparent visual magnitude 10.3. This is a bit uncertain as the Sn is embedded in the disk of M82, while the comparison stars are not; if my subjective impression depends on contrast with the background, the Sn could be even brighter. For reference, my limiting magnitude with the 13mm eyepiece was at least 13.3 (using averted vision).

  15. Jack

    First observation ever! From my location in the western hills of Massachusetts I was able to spot the M82’s supernova with a 1200mm focal length (f/5.9) XT8 dobsonian amateur telescope (craigslist $100). I studied charts and sketches all day Wednesday at work and set the scope outside to cool after dinner. With the kids in bed the outside temps started dropping but the winds died down. It was cold and I kept putting the eyepiece in my jacked pocket to keep it from frosting over. I kept asking myself if it was even possible to find anything, but then there it was, just like the sketches I’d studied. There it was.
    I was so excited. I turned to run into the house to get my wife. The jacket caught the edge of the scope and sent the whole thing tumbling into the snow.
    No worries. I’m feel like a different person. I’m connected to the universe.

  16. Jeff Heck

    Not that it matters but I observed the SN in M82 on Sunday night the 19th at 8:30pm in my 16" Teeter. I thought it was a supernova but a friend said it was a field star. WOW and VERY COOL!

  17. Taras

    I finally had a chance to see SN2014J last night, which was glaringly apparent. Tonight it is still very easy to see at home, despite the light pollution from a streetlight across the street.

  18. Ted-ErneTed Erne

    I live in Louisville, KY. Last night/ early morning today, 2/7/14, was a night of extreme astronomy for me, but finally getting a chance to view SN2014J in M82 was well worth it. I got my 8in dob reflector out of storage to view SN2014J, and had to order a 20mm eyepiece from which timely arrived on 2/6/14. The weather here has been horrible. I had to wait until 12midnight on 2/7 to get a clear sky. Thank God I was off work the next day. I then traveled to the local astronomy club’s dark site in Curby, IN about 40 miles away. The main roads were good, but the country roads were iced over and temps were dropping to single digits, but the sky was beautiful, so I pressed on. I had to use extremely reduced speeds and careful, gentle brake pumping to get there and back in one piece. I felt like I was on an Artic expedition, but was excited to get a rare opportunity. Success! I did get to view SN2014J firsthand! Check out my pencil sketch with this link: I had to use averted vision at times to see supernova, but at times when the air steadied, it leaped out right in front of me! Spectacular!

  19. J Hanford

    Reading the recent papers on SN2014J one raised the intriguing possibility of observing light echoes from this event. The paper by Goobar et al briefly mentions a small (~4pc) dust cloud that appears adjacent to SN2014J that could be a source of light echoes from the supernova. Observations of light echoes across this region could be used to determine the distance to M82 independent of other methods, thus providing another way to calibrate Type Ia supernovae. The paper by Goobar et al is available here:

  20. jack savard

    If a super nova append here just at the star neightborn of us

    What append to us by the radiation like X ray or alpha ray

    somebody are able to explain to us

    jack 47’n 71’W

  21. Pingback: Supernova Remnant in Technicolor

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