A supernova exploded so close to Earth that science and life can see it with telescopes
From Friday May 19 to Saturday May 20, astronomers using the Liverpool Telescope confirmed Koichi Itakagi’s report of a possible supernova (SN 2023ixf) in the constellation Moulinet, also known as Messier 101.
According to the latest estimates, the supernova is currently magnitude 14, enough to be seen by an average-sized household telescope with a clear sky and without much light pollution.
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A supernova to watch for in Galaxy M101
Its nearly perfect spiral configuration, its orientation toward Earth, and its relative proximity (21 million light-years) make it a favorite target for professional or amateur astrophysicists.
Although the Hubble and Swift space telescopes abandoned planned observations to focus on this supernova, we still don’t know much about SN 2023ixf.
Already, the progenitor star (meaning a star that exploded in a supernova and gave birth to a nebula) appears to have been identified in archival images from the Spitzer telescope, showing fluctuations in its infrared luminosity over the past twenty years. The astronomers call for “further monitoring” of the star in their report.
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Andrew McCarthy captured Supernova and you?
Astrophysicist Andrew McCarthy has already posted some images of this supernova on his Twitter account. The latter also indicates that other individual stars visible in the image are from our own galaxy. What we see in the pinwheel galaxy are clusters of stars, some so tightly packed that they can’t be separated, let alone supernovae.
It’s very windy tonight, so the photo of the supernova isn’t great. I’ll keep shooting it and soon I’ll have a nice polished image of the galaxy with the supernova! It will look like this: pic.twitter.com/nocpmMVoka
—Andrew McCarthy (@AJamesMcCarthy) May 20, 2023
The Moulinet Constellation: So Close and Different
Since 1900, the Moulinette constellation has had five supernovae, one particularly spectacular nova. Since the Milky Way hasn’t had a confirmed supernova in 400 years, its neighbor lets us see what it looks like. Messier 101 has 2 to 10 times more stars than our own galaxy, but is very active in forming new stars. This activity can be explained by strong gravitational interactions with surrounding smaller galaxies.