Two new supernova discoveries from the UK

Steve Fossey, a tutor at the University of London, was teaching a routine undergraduate class at UCL’s Observatory in Mill Hill, London on 2014 January 21. He could not know the chosen target of Messier 82, a very popular and well-known galaxy in Ursa Major, sometimes called the ‘Cigar Galaxy’, had a surprise in store for that evening…
His group for the evening was Ben Cooke, Guy Pollack, Matthew Wilde and Tom Wright (Figure 1), some of whom had not previously used a telescope. The choice of observing M82 was influenced by its being situated in one of only a few patches of sky that were relatively clear of cloud at the time.
UCL has a suite of telescopes and CCD equipment at its observatory to enable tutors to teach students about the techniques for imaging the sky. In this case a Celestron 0.35-m telescope was used and the first image secured was a 10-second R-filter CCD exposure at about 19:15 UT. This ‘test’ shot was followed immediately by two further 70-second exposures.
Even in the first short exposure a ‘bright star-like blob’ was seen superimposed on the bright part of the galaxy, and as M82 is a regular target for student groups, it was possible to compare the latest exposures with earlier archival pictures. These clearly showed the star in the latest pictures was different and had not been recorded previously, so it was immediately a suspect – possibly even a supernova!

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