Friday, September 2, 2011

Supernova Erupts in the Pinwheel Galaxy

Click on the Image for a large view
On August 24, the Palomar Observatory discovered a supernova in M101, the Pinwheel Galaxy.  The supernova has been getting brighter every day since its discovery.  I took this picture on the evening of August 30.  The star is brighter than the nucleus of the galaxy, which is composed of millions of stars.  M101 is a large face-on spiral near the Big Dipper with an apparent size of the Moon.  It can just barely be seen with a pair of binoculars from a very dark sky, but now the supernova will be brighter than the galaxy, at least until the explosion dies away in a few days.

Click on the image below to show you a labeled picture pointing out the location of the supernova and a few supergiant star forming areas in the galaxy. Three galaxies near M101 are also labeled.  They are NGC5471, NGC5473 and one that almost looks like a star, PGC49919.  They look smaller than M101 only because they are much further away from us.  M101 is 23 million light years away and 170,000 light years across.  This supernova, designated 2011fe, is being studied by the scientific community.  The early detection, combined with the relative closeness of M101, makes this a spectacular find for professional researchers.  Here's a light curve of magnitude measurements (visual, R, V, and B) that the America Association Variable Star Observers has received.


  1. Is it possible for me to have seen this with my naked eyes and see the stars around it physically moving? I was high up in the mountains and it was beautiful, I know this is what I saw I just wanted to make sure I wasn't crazy seeing things moving around fast up there?

  2. This galaxy is only visible through a telescope. Anything you see moving fast are meteors, airplanes or satellites. Even though everything else (stars, moon, sun, etc) is seemingly moving from the east to the west, it is such a slow motion that it is impossible to detect from one minute to the next. You'll have to wait an hour or two to see the stars are no longer in the same place.