Texas A&M University Astronomy Group members Yi Yang, Peter Brown and Lifan Wang are part of an international science team that recently observed light from a supernova explosion in the nearby starburst galaxy M82 that is reverberating off a huge dust cloud in interstellar space.

The supernova, called SN 2014J, occurred at the upper right of M82, and is marked by an "X." The supernova was discovered on Jan. 21, 2014.

The team's research, previously published in The Astrophysical Journal, also is available as an arXiv preprint. The work was funded by a variety of sources, including in Texas A&M's case, the National Science Foundation, NASA/The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy.

The inset images at right reveal an expanding shell of light from the stellar explosion sweeping through interstellar space, called a "light echo." The images were taken 10 months to nearly two years after the violent event (Nov. 6, 2014 to Oct. 12, 2016). The light is bouncing off a giant dust cloud that extends 300 to 1,600 light-years from the supernova and is being reflected toward Earth.

SN 2014J is classified as a Type Ia supernova and is the closest such blast in at least four decades. A Type Ia supernova occurs in a binary star system consisting of a burned-out white dwarf and a companion star. The white dwarf explodes after the companion dumps too much material onto it.

The image of M82 reveals a bright blue disk, webs of shredded clouds and fiery-looking plumes of glowing hydrogen blasting out of its central regions.

Close encounters with its larger neighbor, the spiral galaxy M81, is compressing gas in M82 and stoking the birth of multiple star clusters. Some of these stars live for only a short time and die in cataclysmic supernova blasts, as shown by SN 2014J.

Located 11.4 million light-years away, M82 appears high in the northern spring sky in the direction of the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear. It is also called the "Cigar Galaxy" because of the elliptical shape produced by the oblique tilt of its starry disk relative to our line of sight.

The M82 image was taken in 2006 by Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys. The inset images of the light echo also were taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys.

In addition to Texas A&M's Yang, Brown and Wang, the science team also included astronomers from the European Organization for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere, the Space Telescope Science Institute, Florida State University, the University of Sheffield, Tsinghua University and the University of Texas at Austin.

This video sequence takes the viewer into the nearby starburst galaxy M82, where a shell of light surrounding an exploding star is moving through interstellar space. The light was emitted from supernova SN 2014J, which was first observed in January 2014. Nearly three years later, light from the blast can still be seen reverberating off of interstellar dust clouds -- an effect called a light echo. The sequence begins with the constellation Ursa Major, where the M82 galaxy resides. Then the view zooms up on the cigar-shaped M82 galaxy. Moving inside M82, the video ends with a shell of light expanding outward from the supernova blast and is repeated several times. M82 is located 11.4 million light-years away. Credit: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon, J. DePasquale, and Z. Levay (STScI) Acknowledgment: Y. Yang (Texas A&M/Weizmann Institute of Science)

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington, D.C.

For additional video, images and more information about the light echo and Hubble, visit http://hubblesite.org/news_release/news/2017-42.


Media Contact: Donna Weaver, Space Telescope Science Institute, 410-338-4493 or dweaver@stsci.edu

Science Contact: Yi Yang, Texas A&M University/Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel, 011-972-8-934-6505 or yi.yang@weizmann.ac.il

Donna Weaver

  • Credit: NASA, ESA and Y. Yang (Texas A&M University and Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel). Acknowledgment: M. Mountain (AURA) and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA).

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