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Friday, January 24, 2014

Saw the Supernova in M82 Last Night!

Although there were thin, high cirrus clouds in the sky last night, we went out to try to see the supernova in M82. And there it was! Dim, visible only with averted vision, but a distinct bright dot towards the edge of the galaxy: an old star that blew itself to smithereens 12 million years ago, but just now visible due to the finite speed of light. I was using my 5" (130mm) APO refractor and had a hard time seeing it, but that was probably just due to the cirrus cloud cover. This supernova will continue to be visible for the next coupld of weeks and is still brightening!

Supernova in Galaxy M82, 12 million light years distant. The closest supernova to us in 28 years.
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Thursday, January 23, 2014

New Supernova Erupts in Galaxy M82

A new supernova has erupted in M82, a nearby galaxy just 12 million light years away. The supernova has already reached magnitude 11.0, bright enough to be seen in small backyard telescopes. This is a Type 1a supernova which occurs when an old, super-dense white dwarf star pulls gas from a nearby companion star. When the mass of the white dwarf reaches 1.4x the mass of our sun the star blows itself to smithereens in a spectacular nuclear fusion event that releases more light and energy than over 400 billion stars. This is one bad explosion you don't want to be anywhere near. Fortunately, at a distance of 12 million light years we are safe.

This is one of the few times that such a bright supernova is easily seen in the northern hemisphere's night sky. It is the closest supernova to us in years. Supernovas are usually spotted in far distant galaxies, hundreds of millions or even billions of light years away, making them difficult to see without huge telescopes. This one in M82, just 12 million light years away, should be easy to see in backyard telescopes.

M82 is well positioned all night long after about 8:00 PM. You can find it along the line that diagonally connects the two bowl stars of the Big Dipper, Phecda and Dubhe.

Find M82 by running a diagonal line from Phecda to Dubhe in the bowl of the Big Dipper. Then extend that line an equal distance into the sky along the diagonal. That's where M82 is.
I do not know if the supernova is visible in binoculars. I will try to check tonight. But it should easily be visible in small telescopes. M82 is well placed all night long since the Big Dipper will be rising in the eastern sky shortly after sunset.

This is an annimation of M82 before and after the appearance of the Supernova.

Supernovas are nature's most powerful explosions. The bright dot you see above is just a single star, 12 million light years away, that has blown itself to smithereens in its old age. We should only die so gracefully. Try searching for it tonight. It is a rare wonder to behold such massive power at work in the universe.

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Love Under the Stars! finally happened. After two years of offering a free star tour adventure to anyone who proposed on one, Pinhus Dashevsky from Teaneck, New Jersey finally took us up on our offer. On Monday, February 13 Pinhus proposed on a star tour to his bashert, Lara Porter. They were in Israel on a school break holiday. Pinhus had sent me email in advance to arrange the details. I had their special songs and played one on my iPad as I walked I walked away to give them some privacy. I still managed to hear Pinhus excitedly ask, "Will you marry me?" (I always wondered how that was done, and No, I wasn't eavesdropping; he said it very loudly, so excited was he.) I didn't hear her answer but it must have been Yes, as I was soon called back, and we celebrated with a champagne L'chaim under the desert sky.

Pinhus Dashevsky and Lara Porter are engaged under the starry skies of Mitzpe Ramon.
Did I say we had a star tour? Actually, it was more like a moon, Jupiter and cloud tour, since those were the only celestial sights visible on this unusually cloudy night. But the clouds were unusual and quite beautiful, as we got to enjoy another ring, besides the engagement ring - a ring or halo around the moon caused by ice crystals in the cirrus clouds high above us.

A lunar halo around the moon, caused by ice crystals in high cirrus clouds. Toward the bottom left, inside the halo, a bright dot which is Jupiter, just barely shinning through the clouds. This was the first ring we got to see.
Pinhus presented Lara a beautiful triple stone, diamond engagement ring. It was truly stellar! The second ring we got to see that night.

The "stellar" engagement ring Pinhus offered Lara.
After the star tour we returned to the Green Backpacker where we continued our L'chaim with a chocolate engagement party cake. We made Lara and Pinhus blow out the two candles together.

The engagement cake. "Couple for life!"

Writer Abigail Klein Leichman picked up the event and provided a nice write up in

I guess this now makes us officially the most romantic thing to do in Israel for Valentines Day and Tu b'Av. 

The offer still stands. A free star tour if you propose to your beloved on one!! Come on down and take us up on our offer.

Ira "Star Man" Machefsky

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