A supernova has exploded in the Pinwheel Galaxy 21 million light-years away.
Dubbed SN 2023ixf, it has the distinction of being one of the brightest seen in a decade.
It is so bright that it is visible from Earth. Here are some tips for seeing it from your backyard.
A supernova exploding in a nearby galaxy creates an unexpected spectacle for amateur astronomers.
Appearing 21 million light-years away in the Pinwheel Galaxy, the supernova is one of the largest and brightest in our sky in a decade, Space.com reported.
Scientists will keep a close eye on the discovery, as it may reveal new information about the life and death of neighboring stars.
“It’s one of the closest supernovae to our lifetime, and it was spotted very early,” Dan Perley, an astrophysicist at the Liverpool John Moores Observatory, told Insider.
Here’s how to witness this rare cosmic event firsthand, using a simple telescope.
The supernova is so bright that it was first noticed by an amateur
Supernovas — giant bursts of energy that happen when a star dies — aren’t rare. In fact, observatories that automatically survey our skies for cosmic events see several every year.
But this supernova, dubbed SN 2023ixf, is distinguished by its proximity to Earth: It’s in the Pinwheel Galaxy, which is only about 21 million light-years away.
This made the blast bright enough to be first spotted by an amateur astrophotographer, Koichi Itagaki, on May 19.
While scientists race to collect as much information as possible from this supernova, backyard astronomers can participate by pointing their telescopes toward the sky to see it with their own eyes.
Go to a quiet place with a good telescope
The supernova is expected to blaze in the sky for at least a month and should be visible with a fairly standard telescope, Perley said.
“The magnitude of the supernova is currently about 11.5. This is basically accessible with a 6-inch (15 cm) telescope from a good enough spot as seen through an eyepiece,” Perley said.
Go to a dark place, away from city lights, with no moon in the sky for the best view, he said. The supernova will appear as a “white point of light,” so bring a finder scope, as it can be difficult to spot it among the stars, he said.
The supernova galaxy is located near the Big Dipper. Look for seven stars that appear to form the shape of a saucepan, with three forming the handle and four stars forming the shape of the bowl.
The Pinwheel Galaxy is located close to two of the stars in the handle of the Big Dipper.
“Viewed from a dark spot with a good telescope, it will also be superimposed on the outer part of the wispy, diffuse spiral galaxy in which it exploded,” said Perley.
“Having the ability to attach a camera that’s capable of long exposures to the telescope also gives a much deeper and clearer image than just looking through a telescope with the eye,” he said .
A better understanding of the death of a star
Scientists are investigating this supernova because it happened so close to Earth and was noticed so early, Perley said.
“These supernovae come from massive stars whose cores collapse and explode. We know those basics well,” Perley said.
“What we don’t know very much is what exactly happens right before the core collapses and explodes,” he said.
What Perley and other astronomers are trying to understand is whether the star is ejecting material before the supernova explodes, a type of shell that could be ejected during this highly unstable pre-explosion phase.
Because this supernova is so close, it’s a favorite of amateur astrophotographers, meaning that astronomers have been able to get amateur images of the galaxy taken even earlier than Itagaki’s, providing information about the first 24 hours after the blast.
It’s also close enough for scientists to pick up data beyond the ultraviolet, optical and infrared wavelengths, such as X-rays and radio, which are difficult to pick up for supernovae at greater distances, Perley said.
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