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Department of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Utah

Patrick Wiggins Discovers Bright Supernova in ‘Fireworks Galaxy’ NGC 6946

New Supernova is Bright Enough to Spot from Earth

Confirmed supernova, "SN 2017aew", can be seen on the top right side of the "Fireworks Galaxy" in the center of this animation. Photo Credit: Patrick Wiggins

On May 13, 2017, "Phun With Physics" Outreacher and NASA solar system ambassador to Utah, Patrick Wiggins spotted something unusual in the sky. He was looking at the spiral galaxy NGC 6946 (the "Fireworks Galaxy") in Cygnus, over 22 million light-years away from his telescope and home near Erda, UT. He noticed a bright spot that he hadn't seen before. By comparing what he what he was seeing with earlier photographs taken of the same galaxy, he realized he was witnessing a star explode.

Named "SN 2017aew", Patrick Wiggins' discovery was confirmed on May 14th by two astronomers: Dr. Subo Dong from the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics (KIAA) at Peking University, and Dr. Krzysztof Z. Stanek from The Ohio State University, both experts in supernovae.

When a star goes supernova, it is one of the largest, and most impressive astronomical events in space. Situated between a nova and a hypernova in terms of total energy, a supernova occurs when a star's core changes in some manner. This can be due to either a white dwarf gaining too much mass from another star orbiting around the same point in a binary star system until the white dwarf's core is so dense that it collapses due to the overwhelming gravitational force (known as a Type I Supernova), or a massive star (many, many times larger than our own sun) reaches the end of its life and runs out of nuclear fuel. The star's core collapses from its own staggering gravitational forces and explodes (a Type II Supernova). In both cases, these supernovae are astoundingly bright for a time - bright enough to be seen by amateur and professional astronomers alike - until they expend their energy and their bright light begins to fade over the next few months.

Patrick Wiggins
Longtime Utah astronomy educator Patrick Wiggins in 2014. Photo Credit: Bill Dunford

This most recent discovery, SN 2017aew, has been confirmed to be a Type II supernova.

This is the third supernova discovery for Patrick Wiggins. He also discovered "SN 2015Q" in the NGC 3888 galaxy in Ursa Major in 2015. In 2014, supernova "SN2014G" was discovered independently by both Koichi Itagaki in Japan, and Patrick Wiggins.

In addition, Patrick Wiggins has discovered a whole host of astronomical events in space, including an asteroid he discovered in 2008, which the International Astronomical Union named "Univofutah", at Patrick's request, to honor the University of Utah. Wiggins' work has earned him many accolades, including the prestigious Distinguished Public Service Medal, NASA's highest civilian honor.

This story is still developing and will be updated as new information becomes available. Stay tuned.


2017 Department Awards & Scholarships

Graduation and commencement exercises for the University of Utah took place on May 4-5, 2017. The Department of Physics & Astronomy congratulates all of its 2017 graduates and welcomes them to their alumni family.

The Department of Physics & Astronomy also congratulates all its 2017 student award recipients on their hard work and accomplishments. Recipients were honored at the Physics & Astronomy Awards Ceremony on Wednesday, May 3rd at 1:00 PM in 101 James Fletcher Building.

Timothy Allen

Teddy Anderson

Sebastian Atwood

Sangitya Baniya

Paul Bergeron

Rylee Cardon

Kevin Davenport

Greg Furlich

Jessica Galbraith-Frew

Mark Hayward

Shirin Jamali

Austin King

Zhuxi Luo

Patrick Odenthal

Jon Paul Lindquist

Dima Pesin

Joshua Peterson

Deric Session

Bijaya Thapa


Congratulations to our 2017 graduates and scholarship recipients!
(* denotes Honors degree)

2017 Awards & ScholarshipsBaccalaureate DegreesMasters DegreesPh. D Degrees

Mentor Teaching Assistant
Greg Furlich

Diversity Award
Jessica Galbraith-Frew

Irvin and Norma Swigart Scholarship
Sangitya Baniya
Zhuxi Luo
Bijaya Thapa

Martin Hiatt Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award
Timothy Allen

Outstanding Grad Student Award
Shirin Jamali
Jon Paul Lindquist

Outstanding Graduate TA Award
Paul Bergeron
Kevin Davenport

Outstanding Postdoc Research Award
Patrick Odenthal

Outstanding Undergraduate Junior Award
Joshua Peterson

Outstanding Undergraduate Senior Award
Lexi Wilson

Outstanding Undergraduate Sophomore Award
Julia Vonnesen

Paul Gilbert Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award
Sebastian Atwood

Scholarship Recipients
Teddy Anderson
Mark Hayward
Joshua Peterson
Deric Session

Students’ Choice Award for Undergraduate Seminar
Dima Pesin

Taylor Endowed Scholarship Preston J. and Phyllis R. Taylor
Rylee Cardon

Thomas J. Parmley Scholarship
Teddy Anderson

Walter Wada Scholarship for Undergraduate Physics Major
Austin King

Timothy Allen
Sabastian Atwood
Sarah Aylor
Daniel Brown
Justice Clark
Sydney Duncan
Jamie Dyer
Byron Eng
Cameron Gleed
Gabrielle Gold
Andrew Hale
Keith Hantla
Benjamin Hinrichs
Parker Holzer
Julie Imig
Benjamin Knowlton
Alexis Lagan
Ethan Lake
Caroline Lewis
Jesse Luke
Caleb Mitchell
Brianna Montoya
Ashley Ogle
Kiel Palmer
Seul-Ye Park
Mathew Potts
Benjamin Riseman
Cedric Shaskey
Laura Slusser
Aaron Smith
Julian Stanley
Alexis Wilson
Tingshiuan Wu
Sangita Baniya
Greg Engh
K.C. Erb
Shirin Jamali
Run Li
Jing Ma
Chad Miller
Michael Newbold
Janvida Rou
Bryant Svedin
Yue Zhang
David Harris
Pei-i Ku
Song-Haeng Lee
Marc Lindley
Ryan McLaughlin
Chad Miller
Dieu Duc Nguyen
Nabraj Sapkota
Xuefang Sui
Bryant Svedin
Fei Teng
Eddie Thenell
Chris Winterowd
Takahiro Yamamoto
Yue Zhang
Zachary Zundel


Commencement & Convocation Information 2017

From the Office of the Registrar & the College of Science


University Commencement will be held on Thursday, May 4, 2017 at 6:30pm in the Jon M. Huntsman Center (Map). Candidates for graduation in the summer 2016, fall 2016, spring 2017, or summer 2017 terms may attend.

Commencement is open to the public and free to attend. No tickets or RSVP required. The world-renowned mountain climber, filmmaker, author, philanthropist and Universityof Utah alum Conrad Anker will deliver the commencement address. Honorary Degrees will be awarded to Conrad Anker and Gail Miller.For more information, please visit the Commencement Ceremony page. Those who are unable to attend commencement can watch it streamed live on or online via

For those of you attending or participating in graduation ceremonies this spring, here's some important information.


(For the entire campus where the VIPs speak)
Thursday, May 4, 2017
Jon M. Huntsman Center (Map)

  • 5:00 pm - Graduates assemble in the Parking Terrace west of the Huntsman Center dressed in cap and gown
  • 5:30 pm - Guests should be seated
  • 5:45 pm - Procession begins
  • 6:30 pm - Commencement ceremony begins


(Where your name is called and you walk across the stage)
College of Science (Click here for other colleges' date, time and location)
Thursday, May 4, 2017
Jon M. Huntsman Center (Map)
More info

  • 7:15 - 7:45 am - Graduates assemble outside Jon M. Huntsman Center (see the link above for additional details)
  • 9:00 am - Convocation ceremony begins
  • 11:00 am College of Science Reception at the S.J. Quinney Law Building, 6th Floor, Room 6623 (see below for additional details)


Following the Convocation, graduates and their guests are invited to a reception for the College of Science Class of 2017. Lunch will be served. This reception will be held:
Thursday, May 4, 2017
11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Law Building, 6th Floor, Room 6623 (map)


Convocation will also be streamed live online so forward these links to family and friends who want to view it, but can't attend:
On-demand streaming of the College of Science Convocation will be available here.
The live stream link will be available here.


Campus parking lots may be used at no charge during commencement and convocation ceremonies. Please see the commencement parking map for parking locations as well as shuttle and TRAX stops. Additionally, since campus parking is limited, we encourage the use of UTA TRAX on these days. The use of TRAX while on campus is free both days, but fare is still required for any off campus travel.

Shuttle Services

As campus parking is limited, graduates and their guests are encouraged to use the free campus shuttle service to travel between commencement events. Shuttles run throughout campus and are scheduled every 10 minutes. Track the current location of any campus shuttle using the Live Shuttle Tracker.

Accessible Parking

For a map to all accessible parking options on campus, visit the campus map and select the "Accessible" option from the Map Features drop-down menu.

Construction Alerts

For a map with notifications regarding all parking lots effected by campus construction, view the campus map and select the "Construction" option from the Map Features drop-down menu.

Commuter Services

For more information about transportation and parking options, visit the Commuter Services website.

To learn more, please visit the Commencement Ceremony Parking & Transportation page.


March For Science, April 22

Saturday, April 22, 2017 @ 3:00 p.m. - March for Science at City Creek Center

March for Science

Date & Time: Saturday, April 22, 2017 @ 3:00 p.m

Location: City Creek Center
View Map

Click here, or contact the College of Science at (801) 581-6958, to learn more about the March for Science.


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