Thursday, September 22, 2011


Thanks to some prodding from my astronomy students, I've now seen my first supernova. Practiced finding it two nights in a row, then invited students and friends for a supernova party up in the mountains last night. Most worthwhile.

Oddly, I couldn't find a good image online that showed what it actually looks like through the eyepiece of a small telescope. (By small, I mean my 10-inch Newtonian reflector, or the 6-inch reflector that one of my students brought last night.) Most of the photos online are exposed to bring out lots of detail in the Pinwheel Galaxy, de-emphasizing the supernova itself.

So in an attempt to help others who are looking for it, I just whipped up this simulated image using Stellarium and Photoshop (click for a larger version):

The circle shows a 1.5 degree field of view, which is typical for a small reflector using a low-power eyepiece. The smudge in the center (which is actually much fainter than shown here, even from a very dark site) is the galaxy. Look for it with averted vision. The point of light closest to the center of the smudge, oriented at about two o'clock in the image, is the supernova. This is the orientation you'll see in a Newtonian reflector eyepiece at the best viewing time, soon after dark.

Other web sites, like this one, can help you point your telescope to the right part of the sky.

The supernova is already starting to fade, so hurry and look while you can!