Friday, March 17, 2017

Bob's the Bomb

And by "Bob," I mean the supernova given that nickname seen in the spiral galaxy NGC 5643. Astronomer Rachel Beaton, who works with the team that first observed the supernova, is the one who gave it the nickname Bob.

Its technical name is SN2017cbv. The galaxy containing it is also home to the supernova SN2013aa, which as far as I could tell has no nickname. The interesting thing about Bob is that we seem to have caught him as he begins the explosive phase of his existence. The apparent magnitude of SN2017cbv increased by almost 2.5 times in the first day since it was spotted.

The headline at the Astronomy article isn't exactly accurate -- SN2017cbv isn't going on "right now." It's roughly 60 million light years from us, which means that astronomers are observing what happened in that spot 60 million years ago. North America, Europe and Asia were all one landmass, as were Antarctica and Australia. South America, Africa and India were all separate continents. It was about 6 million years after the end of the dinosaurs, and mammals had expanded to fill the environment, with some being what we would today consider "medium-sized." The closest thing around to us were squirrel-like critters called "plesiadapiformes," who are thought to have a common ancestor with primates.

As for what's going on "right now" in whatever spot SN2017cbv occupied when it blew up 60 million years ago? Well, we'll know that sometime around 60,002,017 AD.

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