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A bright new Type 1a supernova - which occurs when a white dwarf star explodes in a binary star system - has been discovered in the bright irregular starburst galaxy M82. It has been assigned the name SN 2014J and as of January 23, 2014 was shining at magnitude +11.5 and within the range of small to medium sized amateur telescopes.

Amazingly the supernova appears to have gone undiscovered for a week before first being recognised by students at the University College London (UCL) observatory on January 21st. The team lead by teaching fellow Stephen J. Fossey included Ben Cooke, Tom Wright, Matthew Wilde and Guy Pollack.

M82 before and after supernova SN 2014J was discovered (UCL/University of London Observatory/Steve Fossey/Ben Cooke/Guy Pollack/Matthew Wilde/Thomas Wright)

M82, the galaxy where SN 2014J is located is a much observed and a favourite of amateur astronomers. It's also known as the Cigar galaxy due to the resemblance and at magnitude +8.4 is visible in binoculars. It forms a striking compliment to the near perfect spiral shape of its neighbour galaxy M81 and both galaxies are visible in the same binocular or telescope field of view. The galaxy is located 11.5 million light-years from Earth.

Finder Chart for M82 (also shown M40, M97, M81, M108 and M109)

Finder Chart for M82 (also shown M40, M97, M81, M108 and M109) - pdf format

It's predicted that the supernova has not yet reached maximum brightness, so exciting times are still to come! It's currently visible with a 100mm (4-inch) telescope although a 150mm (6-inch) telescope or larger will make the task easier. With a far northern declination of +69 degrees, M82 is a northern hemisphere galaxy that's positioned reasonably high in northeastern sky during early evening.

You can submit your magnitude estimates of the supernova to both the British Astronomical Association's Variable Star Section or the American Association of Variable Stars.

M82 Data Table

NameCigar Galaxy
Object TypeStarburst galaxy
ConstellationUrsa Major
Distance (kly)11,500
Apparent Mag.8.4
RA (J2000)09h 55m 51s
DEC (J2000)69d 40m 43s
Apparent Size (arc mins)11.2 x 4.3
Radius (light-years)19,000
Number of Stars>30 Billion
Notable FeaturesPrototype starburst galaxy. Member of the M81 Group of galaxies