See Brightest Supernova In Decades Tonight

Written by Dennis Bodzash on Sep. 07, 2011

Find the Pinwheel Galaxy, which contains the supernova, by looking off the Big Dipper.

Right now, the general public is abuzz over a supernova, an exploding star, located in the Pinwheel Galaxy. Yes, while supernovae are nothing unusual, what is unique about this one is that it is the brightest in a quarter of a century. Initially noticed at the start of the month, the supernova has only gotten brighter and is expected to peak in brightness tomorrow.

So, how to see it?

To see the supernova, a telescope, preferably a large one, is a must. Another factor that can help any would-be supernova observer: a dark sky, which means traveling out of the city and out into the country to escape the light pollution. Next up: find the Pinwheel Galaxy (M101), which is where the supernova is located. Good news: the Pinwheel is located very near the Big Dipper, which is riding low in the Northern sky right now. When it comes to zeroing in on the supernova, consult the above photo.

Unfortunately, the supernova is not like a cosmic Christmas light, as in very distinguishable from all the other stars. In fact, this is anything but the case. For experienced observers, though, the supernova will be obvious for the simple reason that there is now a star where there normally wouldn’t be one. For beginners, look at these photos as a guide and look in the Galaxy’s lower left quadrant (note, due to optics, left and right are reversed in the pictures).

As for supernovae themselves, this one is considered a type 1A, which happens when a small, white dwarf star sucks matter off a neighboring star. When all the additional matter reaches a certain point, it triggers a runaway nuclear reaction, and the star explodes as a result.

As always, since astronomy is always a weather-allowing pursuit, be sure to keep an eye on the local weather forecast. For an even better, hour-by-hour cloud prediction, find a clear sky clock near you and see if it will be clear tonight.