An automated telescope on Haleakala in Hawaii spotted an exploding massive star in M66, a spiral galaxy in the constellation Leo. It appears to be a Type II supernova, the result of a massive star that has run out of fuel and suddenly collapsed and snapped back against the subatomic forces at play in its core. Like all supernovae, this star is blasting out nearly as much energy as all the other stars in the galaxy, albeit for just a few days.
At about 16th magnitude, the star is not bright enough to see visually in most amateur telescopes. But Michigan-based astrophotographer Terry Hancock, who has enjoyed mercifully clear skies of late, captured an image of the supernova (see above) with a 12-inch telescope and his high-end QHY9M camera in 20 minutes of combined exposure.
This particular supernova, now booked as ASASSN-16fq, was spotted on May 28, 2016 by the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN, pronounced ‘assassin’). The program uses eight tiny telescopes in two different locations to survey the sky for the sudden appearance of supernovae. The program was initiated in the late 1990s by the late Princeton astronomer Bohdan Paczyński.
In a wider version of Terry Hancock’s image, you can also see another unexpected visitor. It’s the large main-belt asteroid 28 Bellona, a small body about 100 km across in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. See the little red streak at lower right in the image below. So in this image you’re seeing an asteroid a few hundred million miles away, foreground stars in our own galaxy that are a few hundred light years away, and a supernova in a nearby galaxy about 30 million light years away. It’s a big universe.
As it turns out, the asteroid 28 Bellona is named after the Roman goddess of war. She was the consort of Mars, the Roman god of war. And right now, the planet Mars is the brightest object in the night sky as it looms bright and red in the constellation Scorpius. It’s still putting on its best show in 11 years. So grab your telescope and head out to have a look.