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VLT Spies Twin Supernovae

Galaxy NGC 3190, seen edge-on, with tightly wound arms and a warped shape that resembles a giant potato crisp. Supernova SN 2002bo is seen between the "V" of the dust lanes in the southwestern part of the galaxy, while SN2002cv remains obscured by a large amount of dust and is not visible. Image credit: ESO
by Staff Writers
Paranal, Chile (SPX) May 12, 2006
ESO's Very Large Telescope, equipped with the multi-mode FORS instrument, took an image of NGC 3190, a galaxy so distorted that astronomers initially gave it two names. Then, as if to prove them right, in 2002 it fired off two stellar explosions almost simultaneously.

NGC 3190 is a spiral galaxy seen edge-on, with tightly wound arms and a warped shape that makes it resemble a gigantic potato crisp. It lies in the constellation Leo, the Lion, and is approximately 70 million light-years away. It is the dominant member of a small group of galaxies known as Hickson 44, named after the Canadian astronomer, Paul Hickson.

In addition to NGC 3190, Hickson 44 consists of one elliptical and two spiral galaxies, which are slightly out of the field of view and not visible.

In 1982, Hickson published a catalogue of more than 400 galaxies found in compact, physically-related groups of four or five galaxies per group. Such compact groups allow astronomers to study how galaxies dynamically affect one another, and help them test current ideas on how galaxies form. One idea is compact groups of galaxies, such as Hickson 44, merge to form giant elliptical galaxies.

Such signs of tidal interactions are visible in the twisted dust lane of NGC 3190. This distortion initially misled astronomers into assigning a separate name for the southwestern side, NGC 3189, although NGC 3190 is the favored designation.

NGC 3190 harbors what astronomers call an active galactic nucleus, thought to host a supermassive black hole.

In March 2002, astronomers found a new supernova in between the "V" of the dust lanes in the southeastern part of NGC 3190. Brazilian and Japanese amateur astronomers Paulo Cacella and Yoji Hirose discovered it independently.

SN 2002bo was caught almost two weeks before reaching its maximum brightness, allowing astronomers to study its evolution. It has been the subject of intense monitoring by a world-wide network of telescopes. Their conclusion was SN 2002bo is a rather unusual Type Ia supernova.

The VLT captured this image in March 2003 in an exposure of only 14 minutes, about a year after the maximum of the supernova, which is 50 times fainter on the image than a year before.

While observing SN 2002bo in May 2002, a group of Italian astronomers discovered another supernova, SN 2002cv, on the other side of NGC 3190.

Two supernovae of this type appearing nearly simultaneously in the same galaxy is a rare event, as normally astronomers expect only one such event per century in a galaxy.

SN 2002cv was best visible at infrared wavelengths as it was superimposed on the dust lane of NGC 3190, and therefore hidden by a large quantity of dust. This supernova holds the record for the most obscured Type Ia event.

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EADS Astrium To Build Gaia Satellite
Toulouse, France (SPX) May 12, 2006
ESA has awarded EADS Astrium the contract to develop and build its Gaia satellite. Due to be launched in 2011, its mission is to construct the largest and most precise map ever of the Milky Way.

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