I hope you had clear skies and were able to see the Coathanger last night along with Comet Garradd. Through a telescope, so many bright stars were near the comet, it looked like fireworks. Garradd will be just west of the asterism tonight and continue to make a fine pairing through binoculars and telescopes.
It was our first clear night after several cloudy ones, and I was eager to check out supernova SN 2011fe in the Pinwheel Galaxy in the Big Dipper. Holy heck – I found it glowing at magnitude 10.2! That means with a a suitable map, it’s bright enough to be seen in any telescope. Even 80mm binoculars will show the star to an experienced eye under dark skies. By the way, it’s now tied with SN 1993J in the galaxy M81 as the 6th brightest supernova ever seen beyond the Milky Way system. And it keeps on rising.
In this new map (right), I’ve expanded the view and made other improvements to help you locate it. Go back to the wide-view map, which you’ll find below, and “star-hop” to the Pinwheel Galaxy in your telescope. Then use this more detailed sketch to identify the supernova. Two bright stars of 8th and 9th magnitude west of the galaxy form a bright triangle with the supernova. The little star just below the galaxy’s brighter nucleus is dimmer at magnitude 12 1/2. If you own a scope, go out and look for the exploding star in the next few nights before the moon gets too bright.
Last night it was absolutely unmistakable inside the galaxy – a beacon of radiance compared to the soft, dim galactic fuzz. Although SN 2011fe was easy to spot at my lowest magnification, I cranked up the power to 145x to better visualize how mind-boggling brilliant the event must have appeared to any lifeforms in the galaxy around to see it 25 million years ago. It may only look like a star, but knowing you’re beholding the ultimate cosmic cataclysm kicks it up a notch.
After you’ve gotten your supernova and Coathanger-comet buzz, take a look at the moon low in the southwestern sky tonight. It’ll be right in the middle of the head of Scorpius extremely close to the center star in the head called Delta or Dschubba (JOOB-a), its Arabic name.
Delta is 400 light years away and a fascinating variable star 14,000 times brighter and five times larger than the sun. Starting in 2000, the star began to brighten and by 2003 topped out at magnitude 1.6 becoming the second brightest star in the constellation after Antares. It’s still showing activity this year. You can learn more about the Dschubba HERE.
Binoculars and small telescopes will give a cool view of the two together in conjunction. I wonder if you’ll be able to still see Delta without optical aid? Check it out and let us know.