Early discovery of pinwheel supernova makes APOD

Astronomy Picture of the Day (or APOD as it is affectionately know) has been delighting astronomy enthusiasts since 1995 with a daily image related to astronomy. It has a huge following and accepts astronomy and space related images from anyone whether they are professional astronomers, amateur astronomers, or good astro-photographers. The only requirement is that the image should be interesting and relevant to the audience. There is a great deal of competition for one of these prized, daily spots and I am very pleased to say that today LCOGT is featured with A Young Supernova in the Nearby Pinwheel Galaxy.

On 24 August 2011 a supernova was discovered in M101, the Pinwheel Galaxy by Palomar Transient Factory, dubbed PTF 11kly. This supernova falls into the class of exploding stars (Type Ia) which can be used to determine the expansion of the Universe, and it was critical to get observations of this as soon as it was discovered.

 "When you catch them this early, mixed in with the explosion you can actually see unburned bits from the star that exploded: It is remarkable," said Andy Howell, head of the LCOGT supernova team and key member of the Palomar Transient Factory. "We are finding new clues to solving the mystery of the origin of these supernovae that has perplexed us for 70 years. Despite looking at thousands of supernovae, I've never seen anything like this before."

This discovery triggered observations from telescopes across the globe and beyond; very soon after discovery the Hubble Space Telescope was triggered to make follow up observations as well as telescopes from our own network, i.e. Faulkes Telescope North and Byrne Observatory, Sedgwick (BOS). We were very lucky that BJ Fulton, another member of the LCOGT astronomy team was able to stay up into the small hours of the Californian night to snap some vital and early observations of PTF 11kly.

The follow-up observations of this supernova were made very soon after discovery, and it was found to be in a very early stage of its evolution, it struck APOD as being interesting and we are very pleased they decided to run it on their front page today!

UCSB where Andy Howell is adjunct professor, has an excellent press release on this supernova.