By now you’ve probably seen the news that a new supernova is appearing in the night sky, but have you seen it yet?
The result of a star collapsing and exploding in a spectacular explosion of light, supernovae are common in cosmic time, but are relatively rarely observed during human lifetimes.
Called SN 2023ixf, it was spotted over the weekend in a distant galaxy and quickly went viral on social media, with amateur astronomers posting its images, all taken through telescopes.
It is unknown how long SN 2023ixf will be visible, but they can usually be observed as bright points of light for a few weeks before fading, although may be visible for a few months.
This supernova is not in our Milky Way galaxy, but in M101, also known as the Pinwheel Galaxy. It lies about 21 million light-years away from the Solar System and is one of the best-known and most beautiful face-on spiral galaxies in the night sky. That’s about 170,000 lightyears, 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,” where you’ll find the Big Dipper.
The Big Dipper is a northern circumpolar constellation, meaning that it appears to revolve around Polaris—the North Star—to which Earth’s north axis points. That is, it is visible throughout the night throughout the year.
Since the Pinwheel Galaxy is one of the largest and brightest galaxies 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 position in the night sky
Use Stellarium Online to find the exact location of SN 2023ixf, formerly the Pinwheel Galaxy, also known as Messier 101, as a face-on spiral galaxy under Mizar and Alcide in the Big Dipper asterism’s handle is known in
2. View with any small telescope
SN 2023ixf can be easily seen with any small telescope. The best way to find it is to star-hop from Alcide in the handle of the Big Dipper. The Pinwheel Galaxy forms a triangle with Mizar and Alcide, but the easiest way to find it is to follow the direction of the Big Dipper’s handle through Alcide and onto the target. If you have an automatic “go to” telescope just search for M101.
3. ONLINE LIVE FEED
The Virtual Telescope will stream live images of SN 2023ixf on Thursday, May 25 at 18:00 EDT (22:00 UTC). Telescopes based in Ceceno, Italy, used by the organization include a 14-inch and a 17-inch.
4. Using Smart Telescope
If you have a smart telescope such as the Unistellar eVScope or Equinox or Venois Stellana or Vespera you can easily find and image SN 2023ixf by simply typing M101 or “Pinwheel Galaxy” in the smartphone app.
All you need is clear skies and wide eyes.