Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2016 February 9

The Rise and Fall of Supernova 2015F
Video Credit & Copyright: Changsu Choi & Myungshin Im (Seoul National University)

Explanation: Sit back and watch a star explode. The actual supernova occurred back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, but images of the spectacular event began arriving last year. Supernova 2015F was discovered in nearby spiral galaxy NGC 2442 by Berto Monard in 2015 March and was unusually bright -- enough to be seen with only a small telescope. The pattern of brightness variation indicated a Type Ia supernova -- a type of stellar explosion that results when an Earth-size white dwarf gains so much mass that its core crosses the threshold of nuclear fusion, possibly caused by a lower mass white-dwarf companion spiraling into it. Finding and tracking Type Ia supernovae are particularly important because their intrinsic brightness can be calibrated, making their apparent brightness a good measure of their distance -- and hence useful toward calibrating the distance scale of the entire universe. The featured video tracked the stellar disruption from before explosion images arrived, as it brightened, and for several months as the fission-powered supernova glow faded. The remnants of SN2015F are now too dim to see without a large telescope. Just yesterday, however, the night sky lit up once again, this time with an even brighter supernova in an even closer galaxy: Centaurus A.

Tomorrow's picture: open space

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