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Discovery of Most Recent Supernova in Our Galaxy

For Release: May 14, 2008

NASA Release

G1.9+0.3
Image Credit: X-ray (NASA/CXC/NCSU/S.Reynolds et al.); Radio (NSF/NRAO/VLA/Cambridge/D.Green et al.); Infrared (2MASS/UMass/IPAC-Caltech/NASA/NSF/CfA/E.Bressert)
Press Image and Caption

The most recent supernova in our Galaxy has been discovered by tracking the rapid expansion of its remains. This result, using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and NRAO's Very Large Array (VLA), has implications for understanding how often supernovas explode in the Milky Way galaxy.

The supernova explosion occurred about 140 years ago, making it the most recent supernova in the Milky Way as measured in Earth's time frame. Previously, the last known galactic supernova occurred around 1680, based on studying the expansion of its remnant Cassiopeia A.

The recent supernova explosion was not seen in optical light about 140 years ago because it occurred close to the center of the Galaxy, and is embedded in a dense field of gas and dust. This made it about a trillion times fainter, in optical light, than an unobscured supernova. However, the supernova remnant it caused, G1.9+0.3, is now seen in X-ray and radio images.

"We can see some supernova explosions with optical telescopes across half of the Universe, but when they're in this murk we can miss them in our own cosmic backyard," said Stephen Reynolds of North Carolina State University, who led the Chandra study. "Fortunately, the expanding gas cloud from the explosion shines brightly in radio waves and X-rays for thousands of years. X-ray and radio telescopes can see through all that obscuration and show us what we've been missing."

Astronomers regularly observe supernovas in other galaxies like ours, and based on those rates, estimate that about three should explode every century in our Milky Way, although these estimates have large margins of error.

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