By now you’ve probably seen the news that there’s a new supernova visible in the night sky, but have you seen it yet?
The result of a star collapsing and exploding in a brilliant burst of light, supernovas are common in cosmic time, but relatively rarely seen during a human lifetime.
Called SN 2023ixf, it was noticed at the weekend in a distant galaxy and quickly went viral on social media, with amateur astronomers posting their images, all taken through telescopes.
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It’s unknown how long SN 2023ixf will be visible for, but they can usually be seen as bright points of light for a few weeks before fading, though some can remain visible for months.
This supernova is not in our Milky Way galaxy, but in M101, also known as the Pinwheel Galaxy. It’s about 21 million light-years from the solar system and one of the best known and most beautiful face-on spiral galaxies in the night sky. It’s about 170,000 light across, making it twice the size of the Milky Way.
SN 2023ixf is not visible to astronomers in the southern hemisphere. That’s because it’s in the constellation of Ursa Major, “The Great Bear,” which is where you’ll find the Big Dipper.
The Big Dipper is a northern circumpolar constellation, which means it appears to rotate around Polaris—the North Star—which Earth’s northern axis points at. That means it’s visible all night long throughout the year.
Since the Pinwheel Galaxy is one of the largest and brightest in the night sky‚ and we get a face-on view—SN 2023ixf should be relatively easy to see.
Here’s how to see SN 2023ixf before it’s gone:
1. Check its exact location in the night sky
Use Stellarium Online to find the exact location of SN 2023ixf by first finding the Pinwheel Galaxy, also known as Messier 101, a face-on spiral galaxy under Mizar and Alkaid in the handle of the Big Dipper asterism.
2. Look through any small telescope
SN 2023ixf is easily visible through any small telescope. The best way to find it is to star-hop from Alkaid in the Big Dipper’s handle. The Pinwheel Galaxy forms a triangle with Mizar and Alkaid, but the easiest way to find it is to follow the direction of the handle of the Big Dipper through Alkaid and on to the target. If you have an automatic “go to” telescope then simply search for M101.
If you have a smart telescope such as the Unistellar eVscope or eQuinox or Vanois Stellina or Vespera then you can easily find and image SN 2023ixf just by typing in M101 or “Pinwheel Galaxy” to the smartphone app.