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University’s physics department offers free telescope viewing of new supernova


block_n-1488689-1403861The University of Nevada, Reno physics department is offering free viewing of the newly discovered supernova in the galaxy M82, commonly known as the “Cigar Galaxy,” from 7 to 10 p.m., Friday Jan. 24, at the University’s MacLean Observatory located on their Redfield Campus in south Reno.

The supernova, a massive explosion of a white dwarf star, is still brightening and easy to see in a moderate sized telescope, about 4 inches. Several telescopes, including the University’s 22-inch Celestron (the largest educational and research telescope in Nevada) and two telescopes from Tahoe Star Tours, will be available for the public to view the new discovery.

The supernova, now designated as Supernova 2014J, was first spotted a couple of days ago. It is the closest one to Earth since 1987, about 11.4 million light-years away, and can be seen near the constellation Ursa Major, the Big Dipper.

“A viewable supernova is a moderately rare event in our area,” David Bennum, chair of the physics department, said. “It doesn’t spectacularly light up the sky, but it’s a new object to view. It’s interesting to see a star that was virtually invisible now in its death throes. The collapse of the giant star will, for a short time, rival the light output of an entire galaxy. What’s left behind from the collapse will be either a neutron star or a black hole.”

University physics students, members in the student astronomy club, will be on hand along with staff from Tahoe Star Tours to operate the telescopes. Experts will be on hand to answer questions, aid in telescopic viewing of the supernova and several other celestial objects, including Jupiter and the great nebula in Orion.

The University’s astronomy complex, with its two 12-foot diameter computer-controlled domes, is located at the Redfield Campus off the Mount Rose Highway, 18600 Wedge Parkway. For more information visit http://physics.unr.edu/IGRedfield.html.

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