HOT NEWS! Supernova in M101 could be visible in binoculars

Posted by David Eicher
on Friday, August 26, 2011

A type Ia supernova discovered Wednesday, August 24, in the nearby galaxy M101 in Ursa Major is the nearest type Ia supernova astronomers have found since 1986. The brightness of this exploding star is on the rise, and it could be visible in a 6-inch telescope within a week or so.

B. J. Fulton, LCOGT
Palomar Transient Factory
Astronomers at the Palomar Transient Factory project on California’s Palomar Mountain discovered the supernova using the Oschin Schmidt telescope at Palomar Mountain Observatory. The supernova is designated SN 2011fe and lies 58.6 arcseconds west and 270.7 arcseconds south of the center of M101, which lies some 21 million light-years away. The supernova’s equinox 2000.0 coordinates are 14h03m, 54°16'25". At discovery, the supernova glowed feebly at magnitude 17.2 but is brightening rapidly, reaching magnitude 13.8 on Thursday. The star may reach 11th magnitude or better at its peak. M101 itself is a beautiful object, a face-on “pinwheel” type spiral with fairly low surface brightness arms, but a stunning form. Visibility of the galaxy and its supernova will be best in the evening sky over the next few days, before the Big Dipper sinks too far and before early September brings the Moon into the equation.

Type Ia supernovae are catastrophic explosions that result from binary stars consisting of a white dwarf star and a companion, in which the dwarf draws material from its companion until reaching a critical point, reigniting nuclear fusion and causing a runaway explosion of the white dwarf that typically outshines the entire host galaxy for some time.

Let us know at Astronomy about your observations of the M101 supernova over the coming days and please send us any photos you take— we’ll be publishing them online and sharing them with the largest audience of amateur astronomers on the planet.

You can send images and observations to editor@astronomy.com and to our photo editor Michael Bakich at readergallery@astronomy.com. You can also post your observations in the comments section below. Thank you, and enjoy!

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