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Utah astronomer discovers death of star 22 million light-years away

NASA

Patrick Wiggins, center, receives the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal for his work as a Solar System Ambassador. The photo, taken Aug. 14, 2014, at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., is courtesy of the space agency.

TOOELE — Amateur astronomer Patrick Wiggins last week made a stellar discovery — a Type II supernova in the famous Fireworks Galaxy.

A supernova is the catastrophic death explosion of a star, the largest blast known since the Big Bang.

For more than Scheherazade’s 1,001 nights, Wiggins — a mainstay of the Salt Lake Astronomical Society — has searched diligently for supernovas, using his home observatory.

The NASA solar system ambassador, who has received the agency’s highest award for his service, focuses his automated telescope and then starts it on a program that shifts its aim from one galaxy to another. At each, it makes a short-exposure photograph.

About 300 of these gigantic “island universes” are on his list. Every 15 or 25 photographs, he processes the digital images and compares them with their counterparts taken earlier, and then, as the telescope keeps searching, moves to the next batch.

He’s already found two supernovas — one in January 2015 and the other in June 2015. Neither was in a particularly notable or close galaxy. Now he has come upon this most spectacular supernova.

On supernova patrol…

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