Insight Into: Supernova in the Pinwheel Galaxy, 2011

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On August 22, 2011, the Pinwheel Galaxy looked like the familiar swirl of stars astronomers knew so well. 
But the next day it was different. What happened?

Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach.
All images, illustrations, and videos courtesy of NASA, ESA, and STScI except:
·       Night sky imagery created with Stellarium
·       Images of supernova in the Pinwheel Galaxy (SN 2011fe) courtesy of Peter Nugent and the Palomar Transient Factory, Thunderf00t (Wikipedia), and BJ Fulton/LCOGT
·       Type Ia supernova animation courtesy of ESO/M. Kornmesser
·       Taurus constellation drawing from Firmamentum Sobiescianum sive Uranographia by Johannes Hevelius, courtesy of the United States Naval Observatory
·       Black-and-white Crab Nebula image: Bill Schoening/NOAO/AURA/NSF
·       Drawing of the Crab Nebula by William Parsons, the Third Earl of Rosse
Written by Vanessa Thomas
Designed by John Godfrey

Stars in a dark sky.
Text, The Big Dipper
On August 22nd, 2011, the Pinwheel Galaxy looked like the familiar swirl of stars astronomers knew so well.
But the next day, it was different.
A bright spot had appeared in the outskirts of the galaxy.
It was a Supernova - a stellar explosion bursting with the light of 2.5 billion Suns.
It was the "youngest" supernova of its kind ever seen.
From our vantage point, the supernova was just hours old when are telescopes first spotted it
Observations by the Hubble Space Telescope and other telescopes around the world revealed what caused the explosion in the Pinwheel Galaxy.
The supernova probably occurred when two white dwarfs - cinders of dead sun-like stars - merged into one and then became explosively unstable.
The supernova in the Pinwheel Galaxy was the closest of this type of supernova witnessed in nearly 40 years.