Find The Pinwheel Galaxy Supernova – Part II; The Moon Meets Dschubba Tonight

Beautiful, subtle colors show in this weak aurora visible around midnight last night low in the northern sky. The constellation Auriga and bright star Capella are at right. There is a small chance for more auroras tonight. Photo: Bob King

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.

Even you lowest magnification will show the supernova in M101, the Pinwheel Galaxy. Directions, shown at top, are for a typical reflecting telescope. Field of view is about 1/2 degree. Illustration: Bob King

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.

The view tonight looking southwest an hour or two after sunset. Use binoculars to see the moon and Delta snugged up close. Created with Stellarium

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.

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. I've marked the same 8 and 9 magnitude stars in both maps. Remember that the drawing, made using a typical reflecting telescope, inverts the view with south up and west to the left. Created with Stellarium

13 Responses

  1. Thanks for that helpful bottom map! I have not been able to find a map previously that led me to the supernova – just pictures of the Pinwheel Galaxy or something. Much appreciated!

  2. kathy Carlson

    Thank you for the pictures and the post. Too bad that we are no longer in the north country, but here in southern Indiana, in the fog and rain. Tonight I will send my imagination to Lake Superior and Duluth.

  3. Peter Osborne

    Bob, really excellent map of the star-road from Mizar and the “papoose”, it led me to the right area, but here in St Albans, England there was a bit of haze and it has now clouded over (2138 GMT).
    All the best from England,
    PS I see Duluth is a bit south of us, we are about 52 deg north.

  4. Charlie

    I was looking for a chart just like this, thanks. I live in NNY and can see the supernova with a pair of 30×80 Megaview binoculars. The moon is washing out the sky so that I cannot see even the core of the galaxy, but the supernova is there. Faint, but visible. I imagined that once or twice that I could see the 12.5 magnitude star, but probably not. Thanks again!

    1. astrobob

      Charlie — Those are some binoculars! Good going on finding the supernova. I know what you mean about not even seeing the galaxy because of moonlight (haze here too). My experience was the same tonight and I was using a 10-inch telescope.

  5. Sean Scully

    I think I spotted this supernova using a 200 mm f/2.8 lens with the ISO cranked up to 3200. Unfortunately the moon and the northern lights washed out a few of my exposures. I never thought I’d find myself cursing a geomagnetic disturbances!

    1. astrobob

      That’s pretty cool, Sean. I know what you mean about the aurora. There have been a few times over the years when I’ve wanted to make an observation but couldn’t because the northern lights ruled the sky. Next week you’ll get it for sure when the moonlight declines.

  6. David Hanson

    Thanks for the excellent map! In spite of the full moon, I was inspired to try to see the supernova last night. First up, my trusty 10×50 binoculars. No joy. Brought out the 20×80 binoculars. Try as I might, I couldn’t quite get down to the magnitude of the nova (cursed moon!). So I pulled out a tripod and shot it with my DSLR. I had to stack 3 6-second ISO 1200 shots at 105mm to get a decent photo…

    Anyway, thanks again for guiding me to it.

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