Supernovae pop up in the sky all the time, but not all of them are easy to see. This is the closest supernova detected in the past seven years.
If you have a telescope, now might be a good time to take a look at a famous galaxy near the Big Dipper. At around midnight last Friday, May 19, astronomers at the Liverpool Telescope with a 2-meter reflecting mirror confirmed a report by Koichi Itagaki about a possible supernova (named SN 2023ixf) in the Pinwheel Galaxy, also known as Messier 101.
Even if you’ve never heard of the Pinwheel Galaxy (pinwheel galaxy), chances are you’ve seen footage of him at some point. Its nearly perfect spiral structure, its orientation relative to Earth, and its relative proximity (21 million light-years) have made it a favorite target for astrophotographers taking pictures to hang on their walls.
We still don’t know much about SN 2023ixf, although that should change with expected observations from the Hubble and Swift Space Telescopes. The parent star already appears to have been identified in archival Spitzer telescope images, which show fluctuations in its infrared brightness over the last twenty years. The astronomers end their report by saying, “Further monitoring recommended.” As the Cata-vento never leaves much of the Northern Hemisphere, there will certainly be no shortage of buyers.
Astrophotographer Andrew McCarthy, known for his incredibly detailed images created by combining many images, is one of those who has already answered the call. McCarthy points out that all of the other individual stars visible in the image are from our own galaxy. What we see in Pinwheel, supernova aside, are clusters of stars, some so tightly packed they can’t be separated.
By current estimates, the supernova is magnitude 14, just within the range of a medium-sized home telescope under dark skies.
Since 1900, Pinwheel has hosted five supernovae, as well as one particularly spectacular nova. As the Milky Way has not had a confirmed supernova for 400 years, its neighboring galaxy is providing the show. The Pinwheel has between 2 and 10 times as many stars as our galaxy and is much more active in forming novae, possibly due to strong gravitational interactions with its smaller companion galaxies.
One of those earlier events, SN 2011fe, was another of the four closest supernovae this century. Both 2011fe and SN 2014J were type Ia (white dwarf) supernovae. Indeed, 2011fe has become the standard by which the most distant Type Ia supernovae are measured, so SN 2023ixf represents the closest example of a confirmed Type II supernova since 2004.
LT Classification of SN 2023ixf as a Type II Supernova in M101