A blast to chase

Feb 24, 2006
Spiral Galaxy Messier 100 (FORS/VLT)
Spiral Galaxy Messier 100 (FORS/VLT)

Possibly similar to what our own Milky Way looks like, Messier 100 is a grand design spiral galaxy that presents an intricate structure, with a bright core and two prominent arms, showing numerous young and hot massive stars as well as extremely hot knots (HII regions). Two smaller arms are also seen starting from the inner part and reaching towards the larger spiral arms.

The galaxy, located 60 million light-years away, is slightly larger than the Milky Way, with a diameter of about 120 000 light-years.

The galaxy was the target of the FORS1 multi-mode instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope, following the request of ESO astronomers Dietrich Baade and Ferdinando Patat, who, with their colleagues Lifan Wang (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, US) and Craig Wheeler (University of Texas, Austin, US), performed detailed observations of the newly found supernova SN 2006X.

SN 2006X was independently discovered early February by Japanese amateur astronomer Shoji Suzuki and Italian astronomer Marco Migliardi. Found on 4 February as the 24th supernova of the year, it had a magnitude 17, meaning it was 1000 times fainter than the galaxy. It was soon established that this was another example of a Type-Ia supernova, observed before it reached its maximum brightness. The supernova indeed brightened up by a factor 25 in about two weeks.

Since SN 2006X became so bright and since it is located inside the very much studied Messier 100 galaxy, there is no doubt that a great wealth of information will be collected on this supernova and, possibly, on the system that exploded. As such, SN 2006X may prove an important milestone in the study of Type Ia supernovae. This is particularly important as these objects are used to measure the expansion of the universe because they all have about the same intrinsic luminosity.

This is not the first supernova ever found in Messier 100. Indeed, this is one of the most prolific galaxies as far as supernovae are concerned. Since 1900, four others have been discovered in it: SN 1901B, SN 1914A, SN 1959E, and SN 1979C. Recent observations with ESA's XMM-Newton space observatory have shown quite surprisingly that SN 1979C is still as bright in X-ray light as it was 25 years ago. In visible light, however, SN 1979C has since then faded by a factor 250. SN 1979C belongs to the class of Type II supernovae and is the result of the explosion of a star that was 18 times more massive than our Sun.

Messier 100, the 100th entry in Charles Messier catalogue, was discovered in 1781 by French astronomer Pierre Méchain. Located in the Coma Berenices (Berenice's Hair) constellation, slightly north of the celestial equator, it is one of the brightest members of the Virgo-Coma cluster of galaxies, about 60 million light-years away. Its visual magnitude is about 9, meaning it is about 15 times fainter than what the unaided eye can see. Messier 100 is one of the more distant galaxies where accurate measurements of Cepheid variables have been made, as can be seen in the ESO/ESA astronomy exercises.

Source: European Southern Observatory

Explore further: Ceres bright spots sharpen but questions remain

Related Stories

Chandra's archives come to life

Oct 22, 2014

Every year, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory looks at hundreds of objects throughout space to help expand our understanding of the Universe. Ultimately, these data are stored in the Chandra Data Archive, ...

Swirling electrons in the whirlpool galaxy

Aug 20, 2014

The whirlpool galaxy Messier 51 (M51) is seen from a distance of approximately 30 million light years. This galaxy appears almost face-on and displays a beautiful system of spiral arms.

Recommended for you

Ceres bright spots sharpen but questions remain

18 hours ago

The latest views of Ceres' enigmatic white spots are sharper and clearer, but it's obvious that Dawn will have to descend much lower before we'll see crucial details hidden in this overexposed splatter of ...

What are extrasolar planets?

18 hours ago

For countless generations, human beings have looked out at the night sky and wondered if they were alone in the universe. With the discovery of other planets in our solar system, the true extent of the Milky ...

Rosetta's view of a comet's "great divide"

18 hours ago

The latest image to be revealed of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comes from October 27, 2014, before the Philae lander even departed for its surface. Above we get a view of a dramatically-shadowed cliff ...

How long will our spacecraft survive?

18 hours ago

There are many hazards out there, eager to disrupt and dismantle the mighty machines we send out into space. How long can they survive to perform their important missions?

Why roundworms are ideal for space studies

18 hours ago

Humans have long been fascinated by the cosmos. Ancient cave paintings show that we've been thinking about space for much of the history of our species. The popularity of recent sci-fi movies suggest that ...

A curious family of giant exoplanets

19 hours ago

There are 565 exoplanets currently known that are as massive as Jupiter or bigger, about one third of the total known, confirmed exoplanet population. About one quarter of the massive population orbits very ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.