Supernova in M51

Last week I spotted an Astronomer's Telegram about a discovery of a potential supernova in M51 - the Whirlpool Galaxy.

A supernova is what happens when a massive star reaches the end of its life and for a short time that exploding star can appear as bright as an entire galaxy. In a galaxy like ours you might expect as many as two or three supernovae per century but this is the third seen in M51 in the past 17 years.

The discovery was made by the Palomar Transient Factory (PTF) and the Galaxy Zoo Supernovae project. Since then, many amateur and professional telescopes around the world have been watching supernova SN2011dh fade. In fact several people I know have been observing it: astronomer George Privon has seen it with the LBT and Megan is hoping to catch it at radio wavelengths this week. The 2m diameter Faulkes Telescope North had some bad weather at the end of last week so the first public image from FTN since the supernova was taken this morning. That image can be compared to this image of M51 from April 28th.

Supernovae can be discovered by anybody and you don't need fancy equipment. The main things you need are a familiarity with the night sky and the time to keep looking at the skies. The Galaxy Zoo Supernovae project even makes it really easy to find them from the comfort of indoors.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Monday 06th Jun 2011 (13:10 BST) | Permalink
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