Supernova in spiral galaxy M100!

By Phil Plait | February 13, 2006 9:05 pm

Brief update: I am on my way to give a talk in Michigan, so I may not be able to write an entry tonight. I know I won’t be able to write anything on Wednesday! I’ll be back Thursday with more BABlogging.

I just found out that there is a new supernova in the nearby spiral galaxy M100. You can see it in the image above, which was taken by John Chumack, a regular poster on the Bad Astronomy & Universe Today bulletin board (and who is a fine astrophotographer with an astonishing website full of his images).

Dubbed SN2006X (the 24th supernova seen so far this year), it’s way too faint to be seen by the unaided eye, but easily within reach of small telescopes. I’d have a shot seeing it in my 12 inch Dobsonian! Too bad the Moon is full; it’ll wash out fainter stars.

What does this mean? Well, a lot.

First, this type of supernova, or exploding star, is called a Type Ia. I give an explanation of this type of supernova and why they’re important in a previous blog entry. Basically, we need to study ones that are nearby, like 2006X, because it helps us understand ones we see at vast distances, which in turn are telling us how the Universe behaves on large scales.

Getting one this close is a fantastic opportunity. Even better, the supernova was caught two weeks before it gets to maximum brightness (it may not have reached it yet, in fact). This is a great boon to the science of supernovae. They usually take about two weeks to get bright, then fade away over months. Getting one before it reaches it peak can constrain a lot of the physical characteristics about the explosion, like its total power, which is critical for understanding how the explosion will evolve over time.

The host galaxy, M100, is a gorgeous face-on spiral, and since it’s nearby, it’s big and bright and easily seen in small telescopes. Also, this means there are zillions of pre-supernova images (including from Hubble, so the region around the supernova has been well-studied. Since it’s a Type Ia, the progenitor system it may be too faint to have been seen before, though (the star that blew up is called a white dwarf, and may be beyond Hubble’s power to see). Still, it would be interesting if it can be spotted in that Hubble image; it looks to me that the region of M100 with the supernova is covered by the image.

Over time, I imagine hundreds of astronomers will study this supernova, including a team that will use Hubble to reobserve that same spot. By tying the information we learn from 2006X to what’s known about very distance supernovae just like it, we may yet uncover and understand the fate of the Universe.

Until then, you can read more about this supernova and see lots more pictures of it at
the Rochester Astronomy page.’

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Science

Comments (20)

  1. george

    Cool! Looks like it may be the brightest one out there at 14.3 mag. (per

    Will it get brighter still?

  2. jdmack

    I’m confused by this picture (so what else is new?). First of all, how do we know that that bright dot is a supernova, and the other bright dots to the left of the galaxy are something else? Second, how big is that thing? I’m presuming that all the dusty looking parts of the galaxy are stars with light years of space between them. That bright dot is HUGE by comparison!

    J. D.

  3. Mark

    We know its a supernova essentially because it wasn’t there before – two weeks ago if you looked at this galaxy, you wouldn’t have seen the bright dot. So “something” became extremely bright quickly, and by looking at its spectral pattern and the pattern of how it is getting brighter and dimmer ( the change in its luminosity) at different wavelengths, we can put this something into a category of somethings we call supernovas, and even particular kinds of Supernova. The supernova is roughly the size of the Sun. (Give or take a factor of 10 or so.) It is very small compared to the galaxy – astronomically small as it were. It is just very bright.

  4. Peter Barrett

    BA, if the original star was a white dwarf, how did it blow up? I thought only the really large stars were candidates to go supernova.

  5. Mike

    Type 1a supernovae typically start off as a white dwarf in close orbit around a larger star (e.g. a red giant) stealing matter from its larger companion. As it grows in mass the increasing pressure causes the center of the star to heat up and, eventually, start a fusion reaction which ignites the supernova.

  6. LyleBabb

    BA: Supernova are fascinating to say the least. I’m curious about the range of dangerous radiation, in light years, in that stellar neighborhood. How many planet hosting stars (if any) are being sterilized of all life (if any). Can you give a ball park estimate of the number of stars in that range?

  7. Supernovas Type Ia are standard candles and the intensity received (observed) at Earth can be used to calculate the distance. This in conjunction with the observed red shift is used to extend the Hubble constant to much further distances.

    Details are provided at:

  8. Cool! I’ll have to try to image that thing with my scope and add it too my very small super nova collection.

    Here is one of my shots from M51 last summer –


  9. HawaiiArmenian

    LyleBabb, I was also curious as to the lethal,or at least, planet harming distance a Supernova must explode, and there’s a decent article explaining it, referencing some NASA research. Go to

  10. aiabx

    The recurrent nova RS Ophiuchi has gone off as well, for the first time in 20 years, so it’s non-stop astro-excitement week.
    Too bad it’s so cloudy where I live.

  11. HawaiiArmenian

    Apparently, it says a supernova at 26 light years’ distance can destroy a planetary ozone layer. However, the article does not differentiate the damaging power of a type 1A supernova, with that of the type 1b, 1c, or 2.

  12. P. Edward Murray


    Magnitude 4.8!!!!

    The recurrent nova RS Ophiuchi has brightened more than 6 magnitudes
    and is currently visible to the naked-eye for the first time in 21 years.

  13. P. Edward Murray

    Sorry aiabx,

    I read about this earlier but didn’t realize
    you had already posted.

  14. The Galaxy Trio

    jdmack: It only looks huge. In order to get the galaxy to show up on the exposure, the stars get over exposed and turn into blobs.

  15. jess tauber


    YOUR OBJECTIVES, AND THEIR SCOPE, ARE CLEAR- cover them now and put them away, or FACE UNREST OF INCREASING MAGNITUDE! Our will is IRON, and shall ignite a firestorm which will blow off the yoke imposed upon us, while lighting the way for many others who stand with us!

    We are no longer amused.

  16. aiabx

    P. Edward-
    No harm done. It’s a cool enough occurance that it’s worth mentioning twice.

  17. Teresa

    So I’m wondering about the labelling of the picture in this blog entry. This is one of the few galaxies I’ve actually had the opportunity to image (in 2001) and in my image there’s already a bright dot there. ( There appears to be two bright spots in that general area on photos showing the supernova – so is the brighter one or the dimmer one the supernova? And is it just a coincidence that they’re so close together?


  18. MaryLeonard

    Very well done……….

  19. Got it!
    Here is a photo of the supernova in M100 that I took on Saturday night.

    Renton, WA

  20. Your blood is valuable to the space aliens. Get a disposable razor and take it with you downtown. Go to the flower shop or gift store and buy a helium baloon with a ribbon. Once your outside be dangerouse and make a small slice on your nuckle with the razor. Cut of the ribbon short once your outside with the blaoon. Dont tell any one what your doing. Squeeze some drops of blood onto the surface of the ballon. You can be completely satisfied the space aliens saw you release the baloon to the sky. Try different stores and get the baloon thats the biggest when its inflated. You might buy poke em lancets from the drug store to get drops of blood ready for alien contact.


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