The supernova blast, designated SN 2014J, occurred Jan. 21 in the galaxy M82, only about 12 million light-years away, and follow-up observations are planned by the Hubble Space Telescope and other space-based observatories, NASA scientists said.
SN 2014J was captured on images taken up to a week before anyone noticed its presence, they said, and when it was, a professor and his students at the University of London Observatory imaged the galaxy during a brief workshop that the supernova came to light.
One of the first telescopes to turn its eye to the supernova after its discovery was NASA's orbiting Swift observatory, which used its Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope to capture an image of the supernova and its host galaxy.
"Finding and publicizing new supernova discoveries is often the weak link in obtaining rapid observations, but once we know about it, Swift frequently can observe a new object within hours," said Neil Gehrels, the mission's principal investigator at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
SN 2014J is the nearest optical supernova in two decades and potentially the closest type Ia supernova to occur during the life of currently operating space missions, researchers said, providing a unique opportunity the study such a phenomenon.