At peak intensity, a supernova can shine as brightly as the entire galaxy in which it occurs. Novas are less spectacular and more common; they increase in brightness only by a few thousand times, and several occur in our galaxy every year. Supernovas can occur in that small percentage of stars having a mass greater than 8 to 10 times the mass of the sun and perhaps in certain binary stars.
More than five supernovas have been observed to have occurred in our galaxy in the last thousand years, including the "guest star" in Taurus described by Chinese astronomers in 1054; Tycho's star in Cassiopeia, observed by Tycho Brahe in 1572; and Kepler's supernova in 1604. In 1885 the first extragalactic supernova was discovered telescopically in the Andromeda Galaxy; some 700 others have been observed since. In 1987 Supernova 1987A appeared in the Large Magellanic Cloud. It was the first supernova visible to the unaided eye since 1604, and its eruption marked the first time that neutrinos were detected on earth from such an event (see neutrino astronomy).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.