The closest supernova visible to humans in the past 25 years has been on display for the last week or so, and is expected to reach its full brightness by tomorrow night. This Type 1a supernova is an explosion caused by the destruction of a white dwarf, and astronomers say that it could be visible with binoculars from our very own backyard. There is a catch though.
The team of astronomers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California at Berkeley who found the supernova were using a specialized survey telescope at the Palomar Observatory in San Diego. They suggest that while you may be able to see the supernova with binoculars, you may need a very strong pair to get any real glimpse (80mm on a tripod). Almost any telescope should be able to capture the supernova.
Another issue hindering the average star-gazer is the moon (and the city lights). Not only do city lights, fog, smog, etc. make it more difficult to see the supernova, the moon is getting brighter in the night sky.
While the astronomers at Palomar Observatory are recording thousands of images and video from this event, there is a good chance the average person could get a glimpse as well. The exploding star is in the Pinwheel Galaxy, approximately 21 million light-years away, and can be seen in the Ursa Major constellation, also known as the Big Dipper. Scientists explain that the last two stars in the “handle” of the Big Dipper will form an equilateral triangle with the supernova. Listen to one of the astronomers from Berkeley Lab, Peter Nugent, explain more on how to spot it:
So, focus your binoculars or telescope tonight and get ready. We may not see anything like this for another few decades.
Don’t have the equipment? Want to see it in more detail? This is what it looks like with the right equipment:
Photos from Rallyroo and Nasa via Flicr