September 8, 2011
Supernova To Reach Its Peak Brightness Tonight
Astronomers will be losing sleep as they wait on a newly discovered supernova to reach its peak in brightness on Thursday and Friday.
The exploding star is about 21 million light years away and was first spotted by telescopes August 23.
It is the closest of its kind to be seen in four decades and is located in the "Pinwheel Galaxy" above the Big Dipper.
Amateur star-gazers could even equip themselves with 20x80 binoculars to help see the exploding star.
Astronomers say that the best time to see the star would be just after sunset, before the moon rises and washes out the night sky.
“The best time to see this exploding star will be just after evening twilight in the Northern hemisphere in a week or so,” Mark Sullivan, the Oxford University team leader who was among the first to follow up on this detection, said in a press release. “You´ll need dark skies and a good pair of binoculars, although a small telescope would be even better.”
These types of Type 1a supernova blasts are 10 to 50 times brighter than other supernovas, and the light from the single exploding star is brighter than the light from an entire galaxy.
Some astronomers use the Type 1a explosions as a standard astronomical yardstick to gauge how quickly distant galaxies are moving away from each other.
“Type Ia supernovae are the kind we use to measure the expansion of the universe. Seeing one explode so close by allows us to study these events in unprecedented detail,” Sullivan said in the press release.
Image 1: This image of PTF 11kly was taken Wednesday, Aug. 24, with the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network telescope at UCSB's Sedgwick Reserve. The supernova, on the outskirts of the Pinwheel Galaxy (M101) has brightened dramatically in the one day it has been observable. Credit: BJ Fulton, LCOGT
Image 2: The arrow marks PTF 11kly in images taken on the Palomar 48-inch telescope over the nights of, from left to right, Aug. 22, 23, and 24. The supernova wasn't there August 22, was discovered Aug. 23, and brightened considerably by Aug. 24. Credit: Peter Nugent and the Palomar Transient Factory
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