Breaking: possible supernova in nearby spiral M95

By Phil Plait | March 19, 2012 6:31 pm

I just learned that there’s a possible (but nearly certain) supernova on the rise in the relatively nearby spiral galaxy M95. This is exciting, because it should get bright enough to spot in small telescopes! By coincidence, Mars happens to be sitting in the sky very close to the location of M95; that makes it easier to find in that you have an obvious landmark in the sky, but tougher because Mars is so close and so bright it swamps the region with light!

Right now, the supernova is still at roughly 12th magnitude, making it too faint to see without bigger ‘scopes, or smaller ones with digital cameras. However, it was only discovered on March 16, so it’s most likely going to get brighter. The galaxy itself is about magnitude 9 or 10, so the supernova may get that bright.

There are quite a few pictures of the galaxy+supernova on Flickr, but most are copyrighted aren’t free license so I can’t post them here. However, searching the site for "M95 supernova" yielded a few of them. You can also find a list of links here. I think this one in particular is cool; it has bright lines going across that’s scattered light from nearby Mars!

However, by a funny coincidence (?), the European Southern Observatory chose a Very Large Telescope image of M95 as its Picture of the Week just this morning:

[Click to galactinate.]

I say it’s a coincidence because there’s no mention of the supernova in the caption. Anyway, M95 is a gorgeous barred ring spiral: the bar is the rectangular feature in the middle, and the ring around it of gas and stars is not uncommon in galaxies (like here and here). M95 is about 35-40 million light years away, and is part of a small group of a couple of dozen galaxies called the Leo I group. M96, another spiral in the group, is even prettier!

Back to the supernova, DeepSkyVideos put together a very quick-and-dirty video about it which manages to be very informative and good despite being put up so quickly:

If you have a good telescope and detector, the coordinates of the supernova are online. Astrobob has a good finder chart for it. I’ll note that observations right now are critical; the physics of the explosion are best characterized by how rapidly it brightens. At this point, we don’t even know if it’s a Type I or Type II! So observe it if you can. And if you take good pictures or see any online that are not copyrighted freely licensed, please let me know!

And as a final note for now: we’re in no danger from this. I normally wouldn’t bother writing that, but a lot of people seem jittery due to 1) the 2012 nonsense, b) the recent (coincidental) solar flares, and γ) the asteroids (DA14 and AG5) I wrote about last week. So to proclude any fear-mongering, I’ll just say this supernova is something like 400 million trillion kilometers away, and probably won’t even get bright enough to see in binoculars. I hope that helps assuage any fears.

Image credit: ESO

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: M95, supernova

Comments (31)

  1. Don’t you love how in astronomy 35-40 million light years is considered “nearby?”


  2. All photos are under copyright as soon as they are taken.

    What you’re looking for (with a very limited budget) are pictures with a CreativeCommons (CC) license, which generally means for non-commercial use (and for purposes of education on your web page it might be considered non-commercial use, but I’m not an expert) that you’ll provide photo credit in exchange to its use.
    Unfortunately, since many people have (incorrectly) begun to believe that a CC license means it’s free and in the public domain (which it isn’t,) that it’s not used as much as it probably should be.
    In many cases, if you’d send a message to the person that took a picture on Flickr, you’d be able to get their permission to use it with attribution.
    Looking forward to seeing more of the supernova in M95, and thanks for all your hard work on the blog!

  3. Bob

    Quick! To the google hangout!

  4. 2012er


  5. Gary

    Wow, thanks for the heads up!
    I’m in awe…
    Texted all my friends to link them to this article, hopefully at least one of them is one tenth as awestruck as I am at this amazing Universe we’re a part of that we are able to observe and wonder at.

  6. Chris Rademacher

    Love it – Will be my first

  7. Infinite123Lifer

    My sister and I and her daughter, my niece are all Leo’s. Astrology, ok, I know. But I just told my sis, “hey, there is a possible supernova in the Leo group of galaxies!” her response “of course! there’s always something super in the Leo group.” :)

  8. Brock

    Phil, not to nitpick, but I’ve seen you use the ‘not copyright’ phrasing before. Please don’t. You’re looking for free licenses. A creative Commons or gfdl work is fully covered by copyright for the creator, they then license it under a permissive license that you must comply with. They can also license it to other groups with a traditional license because they still have the copyright. Saying images under free content licenses aren’t copyrighted is not just wrong, but harmful. Its hard to get people to contribute work to the Commons if they believe they lose rights.

  9. Tim

    Very cool! If only the weather forecast wasn’t so blasted cloudy!

  10. Chris

    And as a final note for now: we’re in no danger from this.

    I’m just curious if you are ever tempted to just put on there “Oh by the way, this will destroy all life on the planet in the next five hours. Toodles.”

    You’re probably a better person than I am. Sometimes I feel like the black hat guy from the xkcd. Always wanted to mail a bobcat 😀

  11. Wzrd1

    “And as a final note for now: we’re in no danger from this.”

    Poppycock! There is grave danger of lost sleep by anyone with a decent telescope and a detector. 😉

  12. @Infinite123Lifer, that was a long way to go for a joke. 😉

    And as a final note for now: we’re in no danger from this.

    Getting a bit touchy about all the doomsday insanity? I’m with Chris (#4), just have fun at their expense. I think that if you actually tried to state an end of the world post, your long time readership would be skeptical enough to not fall for it, and the wooists would come back for more with each failed prophesy of doom because they’re just insane like that. 😀

  13. Infinite123Lifer

    For LarianLeQuella: It happened in real time, and she caught me off guard when she said “of course”, I just stared at her trying to figure out wth she was talking about or if she was reading over my shoulder or something but then she busted out the joke. It was cool or should I say super :) and yeah, I am known to take the long road, sorry.

    I heard once that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I keep trying to tell people that all end of the world prophecies so far all factually wrong, and some just don’t believe it, and I keep telling them it probably wont happen, and they still don’t believe it, and I keep . . .

    all I can say is what an amazingly struggling world

    Oh and Chris “TOODLES?” rofl

    So this event happened roughly 35-40 million light years away. It is so strange to think about time and observation. We observe the distant past, visually traveling back in time. Just amazing to ponder.

  14. Messier Tidy Upper

    @1. Jim Wright/Stonekettle Station :

    Don’t you love how in astronomy 35-40 million light years is considered “nearby?”

    Well everything is relative – astronomically so here! 😉

    BTW. I really love your blog – Cheers! (Comment occassionally there as ‘StevoR’.) 8)

  15. Jay

    There is also another bright supernova out there so this makes two! Exciting!!!!

    NGC 4790 has a Type Ib at mag. 12.7 as of 03/16/2012. It was discovered on 2012/03/14-450 by Catalina Real Time Transient Survey and Stan Howerton. Found at RA 12h 54m 52s.18 Dec. -10 degrees 14’50”.2

    Located 3″.5 east and 2″.0 north of the core/center of NGC 4790. Type Ib (references: CBAT TOCP, ATEL 3967, ATEL 3968, ATEL 3971.

    My 14″ dob and 20″ dob will have no problem pulling in a 12-13 mag supernova on Wednesday and Thursday. I’m excited to chase both of these down! It’s rare to have two this bright in galaxies that are well placed.

    BTW, if anyone is interested, the website Bright Supernova is a wonderful resource for amateurs who want to know about the latest supernova that are discovered and in what galaxy and location. Includes links to the images that have been submitted. It is found at this website:

  16. Nigel Depledge

    The BA said:

    I’ll just say this supernova is something like 400 million trillion kilometers away, and probably won’t even get bright enough to see in binoculars. I hope that helps assuage any fears.

    ZOMG! That means we won’t even see it coming! !!! 11 !!! eleven (etc.)

  17. Sometimes I wonder about those remarkable stories of what people observed in 1006, 1054, 1604, etc, and what those people long before the advent of modern science (or right at the advent of modern science, in the case of Kepler and Brahe) must have thought of such a spectacle.

    And I wonder… when will the next really really close (within the Milky Way, visible to the eye) supernova be? Hopefully within my lifetime.

  18. This is good we will look for it

  19. Messier Tidy Upper

    @4. 2012er :


    Well, of course we are eventually but not because of a supernova – probably.

    Not this one anyhow. 😉

  20. Phil,

    If you can wait a few hours, I will have something for you involving SN2012aw.


  21. Parijat Singh

    Hi Phil,
    I was shooting M95 on the 15th and 16th evening from my sub-urban backyard, and have high-res (0.48″/px) good quality calibrated mono-CCD images of both before (15th) and showing the star on 16th. I have ~5hrs worth (10min exposures; March 17 02:47 UT to 07:46 UT) showing the SN brightening from 13.84Mag to 13.68Mag with some odd dimming in between.

    See animation of images here (reduced size from original):

    And photometry:
    Object with other comparison stars:

    Object alone:


  22. Shaun

    M95 is 400 million trillion kilometers away, and we can resolve individual stars at that distance? How bloody awesome is that?!

  23. Joey

    And aliens in that galaxy just got incinerated. RIP.

  24. ghettoPRINCE

    Dem astonmers be craaezee.

  25. Jason

    If nitpicking about “not copyrighted”/”freely licensed”, you should probably say “copyrighted and not freely licensed”. While it is true now in the US that a picture is copyrighted as soon as taken, people can relinquish their copyright and place the pictures in the public domain.

  26. george

    I heard it turns out it is actually a cataclysmic variable star in *our* galaxy and coincidentally lines up with M95 (and almost perfectly with Mars temporarily). Spectral analysis “proves” this.

  27. Brock

    @26 Jason:

    Grammar and spelling were due to writing that comment on a phone. Apologies.

    Your second point is not so clear. There’s actually significant legal question about if someone can release something to the public domain. Public Domain is not a license in and of itself, but a legislatively defined set of conditions for when something passes beyond the copyright scheme. Creative Commons identified this problem early on, from Wikipedia:

    “Some scholars of copyright law, including Lawrence Lessig, agree that it is difficult to put works in the public domain, but not impossible. The Creative Commons website, for example, released a copyright waiver in 2009 called CC0. It is important to maintain that this is a copyright waiver and not a public domain release, due to the controversy regarding the legality of abandoning a copyright on a work. This waiver nullifies and voids all copyright on a work. It also provides a fallback all-permissive license in case the waiver is deemed legally invalid.”

  28. I photographed the supernova, and is posted on my website.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar