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‘Once in a generation’ supernova discovered within hours of its explosion

Supernova PTF 11kly occurred in the Pinwheel Galaxy,located in Ursa Major.

Written by Agencies | Washington |
August 26, 2011 4:26:41 pm

Astronomers have discovered a rare supernova that is closer to earth – approximately 21 million light-years away – than any other of its kind in a generation.

They believe the supernova was caught within hours of its explosion,a rare feat for events of this type.

The discovery of a supernova so early in its life and so close to Earth has energized the astronomical community.

“We caught this supernova earlier than we’ve ever discovered a supernova of this type,” said Andy Howell,adjunct professor of physics at UCSB and staff scientist at LCOGT,and one of the leaders of the team that discovered the supernova.

The supernova,dubbed PTF 11kly,occurred in the Pinwheel Galaxy,located in the “Big Dipper,” also known as Ursa Major.

It was discovered by the Palomar Transient Factory (PTF) survey,which is designed to observe and uncover astronomical events as they happen.

Such supernovae reach the brightness of more than a billion Suns in the first three weeks after the explosion,because the process creates energetic radioactive elements that decay and emit light,according to Howell.

They normally can’t be seen so soon after the explosion because they are too faint. The relative closeness of this event was one factor that led to the unprecedented early observations. The other factor is the use of robotic telescopes.

The PTF survey uses automated telescopes to scan the sky nightly and alert observers when something has changed. Robotic telescopes at LCOGT then allow immediate follow-up observations.

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