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Captain's Log

September 2011

Rare Supernova - See it from your garden

Closest Supernova in 25 years – see it from your garden

Closest Supernova in 25 years – see it from your garden

Astronomers have recently spotted an exploding white dwarf star, or supernova, close enough to Earth to enable amateurs to see it. Named PTF 11kly, the supernova occurred in the Pinwheel Galaxy, part of the Ursa Major (“Big Dipper”, or “Plough”) constellation.

These Supernovae are thought to occur when a dying star collapses, and this one occurred around 21 million years ago. Discovered on 24 August, less than 24 hours after its apparent formation, it offers astronomers a rare opportunity to examine the outer layers of the star and some clues as to its origin.

At ‘only’ 21 million light years away it is the closest event of this type in more than 25 years, and is expected to reach peak brightness around 9 September. The best time to view the supernova from the UK will be just after evening twilight, in the north western sky. First, locate the first two stars on the ‘handle’ of the Big Dipper, then draw an imaginary equilateral triangle up from those two stars. Where the two lines converge is approximately where the supernova should be.

You will need dark, clear skies, and a telescope or good pair of binoculars. We would recommend some warm clothes too!

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