Can I See the Pinwheel Supernova?

This post was prompted by Colin pointing me towards the video included below.

Last week (August 24th) astronomers noticed a Type 1a supernova located in the Pinwheel galaxy a mere 21 million light-years away. Yes, that sounds like a lot, but that distance makes it the closest supernova to be seen in the last 25 years (the last one was in 1986, and the one before that in 1972, I think).

Can I see it?

Yes, but you've got to be quick. Take a look at this video for a great explanation of how to do it. I'll summarise the main points afterwards.

  • You've got until about 9th September.
  • You'll need a decent pair of binoculars or a small telescope (you won't see it with your naked eye).
  • The best time to view will be just after sundown, and you'll have to be in the Northern hemisphere.
  • The Pinwheel galaxy is located, from our point of view, in the constellation Ursa Major, part of which is more popularly known as either "the plough" (mostly in the UK) or "the big dipper" (more towards the USA side of things).
  • Locate the two stars that form the very end of the 'handle' of the plough, and use them as the base of an equilateral triangle. The Pinwheel galaxy (and the supernova, which will outshine its galaxy) is just about at the third vertex of this triangle.
If you're not too sure about that last bullet point, here's a diagram to help:

By, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Find Alkaid and Mizar on the diagram (the two stars at either end of the left-most green line).
  • Now find the circle labelled "M101", almost directly above of Alkaid and to the left of and slightly above Mizar (notice how the three objects form almost an equilateral triangle - this will help you to find it in the sky!)
  • "M101" is the catalogue (i.e. 'boring') name for the Pinwheel galaxy. This is what you need to be looking at!

Remember, you've got until the 9th of September at the latest!


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