How To Find The New Supernova In The Pinwheel Galaxy

Find Mizar in the bend of the Dipper's Handle and then follow the little road of stars up to the Pinwheel Galaxy. The map shows the Handle as you face northwest at nightfall. Created with Stellarium

I’m very short on time just now, but wanted to take a few minutes to post a couple little maps to help telescope users find SN2011 fe, the new and bright supernova in M101 the Pinwheel Galaxy. Last night, it jumped another magnitude in brightness all the way up to magnitude 12.8 (my estimate). That’s great news, because now it’s within range of 6-inch and larger telescopes.

Face northwest at nightfall and find the Big Dipper. That’s easy enough. Then use the wide view chart to leap frog your way from Mizar, the star in the bend of the Dipper’s Handle, along the path shown to M101. The galaxy is visible in 40mm and 50mm binoculars as a smoky smudge from a dark sky site. It appears like a larger smudge with a brighter nucleus and faint spiral arms in a telescope.

My drawing is bit crude, but it'll get you there. Telescope users will easily see the star (a foreground star in the Milky Way) north of the nucleus. Shoot a line through it upward to the southwest and you'll go straight to the supernova. Illustration: Bob King

Once you’ve found the galaxy, bring your magnification up to around 100x and locate the fuzzy nucleus in the center of the galaxy. There’s a star on the north side of the nucleus. Draw a line from that star through the nucleus and keep going until you hit the very next star in that line — that’s the supernova! Depending on the size of your telescope, you may also see the two stars that flank the supernova. Both are dimmer than the supernova.

Good luck and let me know if you have any questions. The map at left is drawn to show the view in a typical reflecting telescope with south at top. I can’t wait to have another look tonight, when it should be brighter yet. For more information on the star, please scroll down to yesterday’s blog.

*** Click HERE for an updated supernova map (9/3)


30 Responses

  1. Stephan

    Hi Bob!
    I’ve just come in from an observing session – and yay, I found the galaxy and I think I could make out the supernova. Thanks for sharing the finder charts, they were very helpful. First I had some difficulties to find M101, but after a while I made it. For me as a visual observer your drawing was especially helpful, for it shows the galaxy as one sees it in the eyepiece, and not as it would be depicted in a photograph. Thanks for it as well. Your site is just great; It gives me the push to “go out and try for myself” – and very often, I succeed in finding the objects – this is very rewarding, like tonight. After some heavy rain today our sky was especially clear, it seems that this is usually so after the passing of a cold front. By the way, I’m using a Dobson telescope with a 10″ mirror.

    Greetings from a happy customer 🙂

    1. astrobob

      Dear Stephan — I’m so happy to here you found the chart useful. I was hoping it would work in the real world. I based it on my own visual observations through a 15-inch (37cm) reflector, except I left out the fainter stars. You’re right — drawings are more effective at representing visual appearance through a telescope than photographs. I wish you much success in your observing, and I’ll do my best to feature interesting things to look for.

    1. astrobob

      Tammy — was it moving and in which direction? Can you tell me its position in relation to the North Star at the end of the Little Dipper’s handle? My first guess is a satellite.

  2. patrick

    Leave it to a newsman to get usable data out to the populace! I searched many sites looking for a map for poor pedestrains so that they could easily find this event. Most sites were more interested in showing off high class photos of the galaxy ,which of course are nice but not very helpful in locating the place of interest. I used to work for a newspaper, and one of my accomplishments was getting the paper to replace the astronomy column for people who own $20,000 telescopes with a column for plain old poor people who could read the column, walk outside, look up and see something of interest. It was written by a teacher at a local high school (ASD Planetarium) and ran in the paper for several years. Now I know where to look – thanks again!

  3. Spoons

    Used your map and found it perfectly well and easy last night in Connecticut. Since I live in central Connecticut, M101 is a frustrating mess for me to find, usually. But the combination of naturally dark skies and Irene power outages worked last night. Saw M101 as a fuzzy patch through 15×50 image-stabilized binocs, and while I couldn’t see much better in my 8-inch scope, I found the Supernova using your guide. Much, much, much appreciated!!!!!

  4. Steve

    Thanks for the chart, helped immensely in locating the SN. Observed it last night in western Maryland. A little “soupy” sky, so had to use the DSCs on my 10-inch scope to locate M101 (always a tough one just trying to track down in any event). Once I had observed for a bit to allow my eyes to adjust, I could make out the fluffy core, the 12.5 mag. star to the north, and easily could spot the SN south of the core as much brighter. It was flanked on the western side by a fainter star, but could not see the one on the eastern side (at about the distance shown in your diagram).

    Speaking of diagram, why is west on the right in it, as it should be showing to the left if this is a view in a typical reflector?

    Can’t wait for better transparency conditions to observe this one again. This is my 3rd supernova, counting the one in M51 earlier this year and then one in NGC 2403 in Camelopardalis in 2004. Pretty neat seeing a single star in another galaxy that is so far away!


    1. astrobob

      Steve — great news that you found it! Pretty amazingly bright, isn’t it? The directions are twisted around a bit because it’s in the northern sky.

      1. Steve

        Thanks for changing the orientation markers on the diagram of M101. That now matches more what I observed a few nights ago. Had a chance to confirm that I actually saw it on 8/31 (initial observation 8/30) and while the transparency seemed better I still could not make out much more of M101 than my original observation (UMa is just too low on the horizon for that I suppose). BTW, AAVSO observers are now reporting (dates 9/1 and 9/2) that the SN has a magnitude of around 10.5, making it a target for larger binoculars if you have them.

        1. astrobob

          Hi Steve — Yes, your e-mail caused me to look at it again last night and realize I had skewed west too far to the right. Thank you! I saw on Bishop’s site the supernova was 11.0 yesterday, but it appeared brighter to me last night. There were so many clouds here however that I was unable to make a brightness estimate. Tonight looks better.

  5. rob

    Hi Astrobob , can i just add that this is a fabulous website and i have learned alot from it , keep up the good work ! (Rob , Nottingham England)

  6. NiteSkyGirl

    This is just the best article I found on locating the Supernova for my readers who asked where to find it. The illustrations are SPECTACULARLY DONE.

    Some good amount of research has been done for this article, nice AstroBob!

  7. AstroDuck

    Im glad people like you take the time out of their day to give us the information needed to find these spectucular event in spacetime. Although I don’t possess a telescope at the moment (just a small pair of binoculars) its the chance to indulge in the knowledge of our universe that really makes me feel….well…..special. Thanks a million Bob and keep up the good work.

  8. Warren

    Thank you for the information and chart for the supernova. We live during these warm months on the north side of Big Bear Island at Crane Lake. We have wonderful darkness, even tonight at the moon grows in fullness and light. Found the supernova that we hae been hearing about, and, more important, found your site as the first choice on my search. You must be a popular and well-respected observer.

    Good Wishes,
    Warren and Jackie Bradbury
    Crane Lake and St. Cloud

    1. astrobob

      Hi Warren,
      Sounds like a great spot to be this summer. I haven’t been to Crane Lake for some time. I hope you’re able to find the supernova. If you need additional help, please let me know.

  9. Dan

    Thanks Bob.

    Now I just wished I was back on the Iron Range where I grew up to see it. Light pollution is a bit of a problem down here in Chicago. Going to have to go for a drive with the telescope to get this on as soon as the clouds clear up.


  10. CascoBoy8

    AstroBob: Thanks for the SN Blogs. Bit too much moon and city lights last night but have another chance tonight. Later

  11. Michael "diz" Dziak - Astro Trim

    Hello, fellow gazers! Just to mention to all those that replied to this great post and “stellar information”, I must say that attending a star party with Astro Bob, is always among the best “under the starry heavens” gazing experiences. Having this warm, sparkling intellect and engaging personality right next to you at the eyepiece is taking it “to the next level” of gazing at the Universe we all are a part of. His love and passion for star gazing and teaching others is always an inspirational experience for me.
    I soooo look forward to seeing & listening to this “mentor of the stars” at the upcoming Furtman Farm Star Party near Webster, Wisconsin. Excellent dark skies, with a cold front bringing crisp, clean air to gaze through.

  12. Charlie

    Sept. 20

    I was motivated to dust off the primary of my old Meade 8″ Starfinder (without a finderscope at the moment) and take it outside tonight. Although definitely soft, the skies were clear over NNY this evening. We were able to glimpse the smudge of M101 – the supernova itself was easy to see. Good stuff. Thanks again, Bob!

    1. astrobob

      Hey, way to go, Charlie. I looked at it last night and noticed that it’s just starting to fade. Now at mag. 10.2, down from 9.9.

    1. astrobob

      All of these supernovas require a telescope to see. Only the nearby Milky Way and its satellite galaxies (Magellanic Clouds) are close enough for us to see a supernova in them with the naked eye.

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