The most visible exploding star in a generation will be visible in skies above Stonehenge tonight. Dubbed PTF11kly the supernova is still getting brighter and should be visible with a good pair of binoculars today.
Blink and you might miss it, but the canopy of the night sky looks ever so slightly different today. A single bright spark has been added to the millions of brilliant white dots illuminating the inky blackness.
Supernovae occur when giant stars reach the end of their life collapsing in on themselves and triggering an explosion that can briefly outshine an entire galaxy before fading away over a period of weeks or months.
The team, lead by Dr Mark Sullivan, made the discovery using a robotic telescope at the Palomar Observatory.
Sunspot 1283 produced a major M5.3-class solar flare during the early morning hours of September 6th. The coronal mass ejection (CME) associated with this flare was airmed directly at Earth so impact with our magnetosphere is likely within 2-3 days time. The expected time frame of impact will be between September 7th or 8th when geomagnetic storms are likely at high latitudes including the potential for even modest aurora activity at mid northern latitudes also so be on full alert!. Aurora forecast and alert charts below…
The geomagnetic field is expected to be quiet on September 6 and most of September 7. Late on September 7 or early on September 8/9th the CME from the major flare early on September could reach Earth and cause active to major storm conditions.
“The most exciting thing,” Dr Sullivan says, “is that this is what’s known as a type 1a supernova – the kind we use to measure the expansion of the Universe. Seeing one explode so close by allows us to study these events in unprecedented detail.”
The last time a supernova of this type occurred so close was 1972. Before that you have to go back to 1937, 1898 and 1572.
“Observing PTF11kly unfold should be a wild ride,” says Professor Peter Nugent from the Lawrence Berkeley National laboratory. “It is an instant cosmic classic.”
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