Another Bright Supernova Goes Boom In M95 Near Mars

The new supernova - yet to be named - is M95 located just below Mars tonight in the constellation Leo not far from neighboring galaxy M96. The inset is a photo of the galaxy taken through a telescope. Credit: Jim Misti / Map created with Stellarium

Wow! Another bright supernova. This one was discovered less than 2 days ago in the bright Messier galaxy M95 in Leo. It’s still too early to know its type, but at magnitude 13.0 and rising rapidly, this one will probably be visible in small telescopes within a few days. Unlike the supernova in NGC 4790 reported here earlier today, this one is far from the galaxy’s center in an outer spiral arm. It’s also incredibly easy to find thanks to help from one of the brightest planets in the sky right now – Mars.

Mars is slowly moving westward toward Regulus, but tonight you’ll find M95 a mere 1/2 degree due south of the planet. Place Mars at the north end of your telescopic field of view, and M95 will be in the same view to the south. What a sweet coincidence! By Tuesday night, that distance will have increased to 1 degree. I’ll provide an updated map tomorrow showing Mars’ motion.

M95 is the 95th entry in a catalog of deep sky objects compiled by the astronomer Charles Messier in the 18th century. He created the catalog, so he could ignore these fuzzy comet-lookalikes as he hunted for comets, his favorite quarry. As anyone who’s looked at both comets and galaxies through a telescope, you know how similar the two appear despite their vastly different natures.

You can use this annotated photo of M95 to find the supernova in your telescope. It's located southwest of the galaxy's center (60" west, 115"south to be exact). Several stars are numbered with their magnitudes. Click image to see a couple photos of the new object on David Bishop's SN site. Photo credit: Jim Misti

M95 is a beautiful, multi-armed spiral with a starry bar through its middle. It’s located 38 million light years from Earth and spans some 50,000 light years, making it about half the size of the Milky Way galaxy.

The supernova is the only obvious star at "11 o'clock" from M95's nucleus as seen in a 10-inch reflecting telescope tonight. South direction is up and nearby bright stars are marked with their magnitudes. Illustration: Bob King

It’s not often a supernova pops off in a bright (mag. 9.7) Messier galaxy. Most are found in more obscure members of the galactic zoo. We’ll be watching the supernova tonight and every clear night. Magnitude 13.0 means you can see it at high power in a 6-inch telescope from dark skies. Anyone with an 8-inch instrument or larger should have no problem provided the air’s not too turbulent. Watch for updates and good luck in your hunt to see this star gone wild.

Update March 21, 2012 – The supernova, now named 2012 aw, remains steady at about 13.1 magnitude. It’s a Type IIP – the collapse and explosion of a supergiant star at the end of its life.  Here’s a brand new blog on the topic. For more information and a chart including the movement of Mars, click HERE.

37 Responses

  1. Brian Primeau

    Interestingly enough I was testing my 12″ ACF (at f/10) and ST-10XME Saturday night (March 17) on M95. Haven’t even looked at the data yet. I took about 100 or so 30-second images…wonder if I got it?

    1. astrobob

      Hi Brian,
      I bet you did. If so, let me suggest you go to Dave Bishop’s Latest Supernovae site and send him a copy. It might prove important in catching the supernova in its early stages. Dave’s e-mail:

  2. Jochen Broz

    Hi Bob,

    thanks a lot for this. I have seen it with my 8″ Newton from Germany. You can not miss it. The supernova is in a similar distance and direction from M95, than the 10.2 mag Star from the 12.2 mag star in the north east of M95. This has been my first supernova. In my visual perception, the super nova is much fainter then the 12.2 mag star. Im curious how it evolves within the next days and weeks.

  3. Robert

    Thanks again Bob, managed to track it down in my 8″ Dob! I was looking at Mars and M95 last night marvelling at the sight of them in the same FOV but hadn’t realised there was something to add to the wow factor until I saw this post.

    1. astrobob

      That’s great to hear. I was surprised last night how close they were – almost too close! I had to up the magnification to keep Mars’ glare out of the field of view.

  4. Peter

    Bob, thanks for this information! Hope to be able to see / photograph it this or tomorrow evening. I took a photo last Friday night of Mars and its conjunction with M96. M95 is there too but only 20 pixels large…

    1. astrobob

      It’s still at 13th magnitude. Under dark skies with your eyes dark-adapted the limiting magnitude for your scope is 13.2 magnitude. You’re right at the limit – worth a try.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Karen,
      No, it’s not unusual. There are multiple supernovae normally visible at any particular time, but most are very faint. Two visible in modest scopes at the same time is somewhat out of the ordinary, but not exceptional. It’s good news for those who own a scope and have never seen a supernova before.

      1. Karen Henderson

        I was not aware – but we sure are glad that Astrobob is!
        Many thanks – we’ll keep our eyes to the skies.

  5. LindaMarie

    Hi Bob, Great News ! My question is: Will this Supernova get any brighter as the months progress? ( since it is a NEW Supernova just born ) 3/18/2012.
    second question: I have a 6″ Orion Reflector,with eyepieces down to 6.3mm & 7.5mm. ( I like pushing my scope to the limit) Would I have difficulty see the nova tonight ?

    Sincerely LindaMarie

    1. astrobob

      It shot up quickly to magnitude 13 and it’s still at 13.1. I think it will continue to brighten in the coming weeks, but I can’t say by how much. If I were you, I’d take myself and my telescope to as dark a sky as I could find and push it to the limit. It is within range of your telescope if you are patient. Let us know if you succeed. Good luck!

  6. Hi Astrobob!

    Great site you have here. I am still waiting for the skies to clear up to get a glimpse of this nova. Its been cloudy here in the Philippines lately 🙂


    1. astrobob

      I hope it clears soon for you. I saw it last night and using a chart from the AAVSO estimated its magnitude at 13.1.

  7. mintaka77

    Just adding some info to my last posting – possible probs are the poor seeing conditions- and my neighbour’s porch light behind the hedge. Oddly, I couldn’t split Algieba, either, with the 18mm eyepiece …

    1. astrobob

      Seeing can have a lot to do with it. Not being to split Algieba sounds like blurry stars and bad seeing. Keep trying and I’m certain you’ll spot it.

  8. Rami

    Hi gays
    I am Ramy Zainal from Iraq and i want your help to determine if there is a supergint star in the position of SN2012aw and if you have papers or website helping me in this subject.

    Thanks to all


    1. astrobob

      Hi Rami,
      It appears that an earlier image by the Hubble Space Telescope showed an 8-solar-mass red supergiant at the position of the supernova. Check this link out for more information:

      1. Rami

        thanks bob the video was interesting and useful, but i have one more question if you dont mind, did the neutrino observatories observing neutrinos after the explosion of SN2012aw.


  9. Rami

    hello Bob

    I sent u a message a bout the new supernova (sn2012aw), i want a physical properties of this supernova any information will help


    1. astrobob

      Hi Rami,
      I thought I had replied to you earlier in the comments section with what I knew plus a youtube link. I believe the original supergiant star was 8 times more massive than the sun.

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