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A new, close supernova
A new supernova in the Pinwheel Galaxy, aka M101, is the closest to Earth in a decade. Amateur astronomer Koichi Itagaki discovered it on May 19, 2023. The supernova should remain visible to amateur astronomers with backyard telescopes for a few months. The supernova – named 2023ixf – lies in the direction of the constellation Ursa Major, near the end of the handle of the Big Dipper.
The last supernova in M101 was in 2011. Andy Howell, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Barbara, explained on Twitter that the 2011 explosion resulted from a white dwarf that underwent a thermonuclear supernova. Andy said that the new supernova is most likely from a different cause, from a core collapse of a massive star at the end of its life. While observers won’t be able to see this supernova with the unaided eye, amateurs should be able to catch it backyard telescopes. As Andy said:
… this new supernova will increase in brightness over the coming days. You should be able to see it with backyard telescopes, for a few months, though it will just be a point of light.
How close is the closest in a decade?
M101 is 21 million light-years away. So even though it just appeared to us on Earth Friday, it occurred 21 million years ago. And even though it’s the closest in a decade, it’s still quite far away. In fact, according to a recent study based on data from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory , a supernova would have to be within 160 light-years of Earth before we would feel its damaging effects. Formerly, it was believed a supernova would have to be within 50 light-years of Earth to impact our planet. Instead, we get to watch a relatively rare event as scientists gather information on the new supernova.
Supernova before-and-after image
Look in the upper arm of this galaxy- you'll see a star appear to blink in and out of existence. That's a supernova! Very recently discovered in m101: the Pinwheel galaxy (which I happened to be shooting when this happened) pic.twitter.com/8hvplfXNtd
Breaking news, today a new Type 2 Supernova appeared in the Pinwheel galaxy (M101) around lunchtime today and I got images tonight. This is a VERY rare event! Despite heavy forest fire smoke, light pollution and aurora, it still shines through strongly. Seems to have… pic.twitter.com/Jpmp2ZPjva
For the supernova images, each photographer chooses their own orientation. Therefore, you can see the supernova in various locations, such as in the 2, 11, 5, or 8 o’clock positions, for example. That’s because there is no standard way to capture a galaxy (there’s no “up” in space).
Kelly Kizer Whitt has been a science writer specializing in astronomy for more than two decades. She began her career at Astronomy Magazine, and she has made regular contributions to AstronomyToday and the Sierra Club, among other outlets. Her children’s picture book, Solar System Forecast, was published in 2012. She has also written a young adult dystopian novel titled A Different Sky. When she is not reading or writing about astronomy and staring up at the stars, she enjoys traveling to the national parks, creating crossword puzzles, running, tennis, and paddleboarding. Kelly lives with her family in Wisconsin.
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