Birth of nearby supernova observed

Aug. 26, 2011 at 4:58 PM

SANTA BARBARA, Calif., Aug. 26 (UPI) -- U.S. and European astronomers say a supernova has been observed within hours of the beginning of the cosmic explosion, a rare feat for events of this type.

The discovery of a supernova so early in its life and so close to Earth -- around 21 million light-years away -- has astronomers around the world hustling to observe the phenomenon with as many telescopes as possible, said one of the leaders of the team that discovered it.

"We caught this supernova earlier than we've ever discovered a supernova of this type," physics Professor Andy Howell at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said.

"On Tuesday, it wasn't there. Then, on Wednesday, boom! There it was -- caught within hours of the explosion. As soon as I saw the discovery image I knew we were onto something big," Howell said in a UCSB release Friday.

Images of the supernova, classified as a Type Ia, from Wednesday night showed the supernova had brightened by more than a factor of 20 less than a day after discovery.

"Type Ia supernovae are the kind we use to measure the expansion of the universe," said Mark Sullivan of Britain's Oxford University, who was among the first to follow up on the detection. "Seeing one explode so close by allows us to study these events in unprecedented detail."

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