Monday, September 5, 2011

Supernova 2011fe

Click to enlarge
On Saturday night, I was fortunate to be able to make an observation of the supernova that has developed within the Pinwheel Galaxy, M101.  I was leading a program at the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter and showed the supernova to the guests, who were rather delighted to see something so unusual.  I did not have time to complete a sketch during the program, so simply noted the locations of the galactic nucleus and nearby stars on paper.  After the guests departed, I then added the glow of the galaxy to my sketch.  The view suffered quite a bit from light pollution, as it was nearly first quarter moon.  In addition, M101 was low in the sky, well within the glow from nearby Marana.  As a result, I doubt that even with time to really study the view I would have seen any additional structure within M101.

The good news is that the supernova is extremely bright, and easy to identify.  It is approximately magnitude 10 and was the brightest object in the field of view. North is at the up in my sketch, with east to the right.  In observing the supernova, we were using the 32 inch Schulman telescope and a 21mm Ethos eyepiece, resulting in a magnification of approximately 271X, and a field of view of .4 degrees.  The easiest way to identify this supernova is to look for the star just northeast of the nucleus.  The supernova is exactly opposite this star, to the southwest, between two bright stars in the field of view.  Torsten Hansen has imaged the supernova as well as analyzed it's spectrum, which is the image at right.  Spectral analysis is the means by which astronomers are able to study the composition of a star.  In addition, astronomers can glean information on the temperature and velocity of the object, particularly whether the object is moving toward us (blue shifted) or away (red shifted).  Supernova like 2011fe are further useful to astronomers as they can help to more precisely measure the distance to the host galaxy.

For further information on supernova in general, visit this wikipedia page. This is an informative video from the astronomer who first noted the supernova:


  1. This was a nice informative post, video was excellent, shared it with people. I was asked about it and the video was sent out. This was a treat in my 12 inch dobsonian telescope!

  2. Thanks- glad you enjoyed the post. The SN is hanging in there, still bright and visible in my 5.5 inch refractor last night.