Monday, September 12, 2011

Finding the bright Supernova 2011fe in M101

North-western sky as seen form around latitude 30 deg north at astronomical twilight (an hour and a half after sunset). M101, which hosts the supernova is above the handle of the big dipper.

With Supernova 2011fe being exclusively a northern hemisphere object, I have neglected the basic "look here" type posts I normally do.

However, despite this blog being largely about observing from the southern hemisphere, with added exoplanets, most of my readers are from the US (thank you, comet Elenin), so I'm doing a finding the supernova post just for you.

Now Supernova 2011fe is the brightest supernova in the past 20 years, however it's currently around magnitude 10, which makes it very faint from our pespective (the limit anyone can see under dark skies with ideal eyesight is magnitude 6.5). You will need a small telescope or dark skies and good, tripod mounted binoculars to see it.

Approximate binocular view of M101 (Click to embiggen).

A big problem at the moment is Moonlight, for the next day or so bright Moonlight will mean that the supernova (and its host galaxy M101) will be effectively invisible in binoculars and small telescopes. You will have to wait until the Moon is below the horizon (September 15) to see them.

The other problem is that M101 sets not too long after twilight, so you have about 2 hours where it is high enough above the murk around the horizon to see.

With the sky dark, all you need to do basically is look to the north-west, find the Big Dipper and follow the handle of the Big Dipper up.

M101 is a faint patch of light in binoculars, despite its listed brightness of magnitude 7.7, it is a diffuse object, so rather dim, it may look like no more than a fuzzy dot. It will look better in a smal telescope, but will still be a fuzzy patch.

Once you have it, the star within the fuzzy dot is the supernova. Happy supernova hunting!


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