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Stunning Supernova Explosion Captured By Amateur Astronomer in Their Backyard (Photo)

A remarkable celestial event is unfolding as a new supernova, the closest to Earth in the past decade, is currently visible in the night sky.

Supernova explosion
The Pinwheel galaxy before the supernova exploded in one of its arms. Credit: ESA/Hubble, CC 4.0

The Pinwheel Galaxy, also known as Messier 101, is currently hosting a supernova event known as SN 2023ixf. This is an exciting opportunity for telescope owners and astrophotographers to observe a giant star exploding in real-time. Astronomers using the 2-meter Liverpool Telescope confirmed the presence of the supernova on May 19, 2023, following a report by Koichi Itagaki.

The Pinwheel Galaxy is a popular target for astrophotographers due to its near-perfect spiral structure, face-on orientation to Earth, and relatively close proximity at 21 million light-years away. The supernova, designated SN 2023ixf, is still being studied, and observations from the Hubble and Swift space telescopes are expected to provide more information. Archival images from the Spitzer telescope have already shown variations in the infrared brightness of the progenitor star over the past two decades.

Astrophotographer Andrew McCarthy has responded to the call for additional observations and has captured detailed images of the Pinwheel Galaxy, showcasing its clusters of stars and the new supernova. Currently, the supernova is estimated to be at 14th magnitude, making it visible with medium-sized home telescopes under dark skies.

The Pinwheel Galaxy has a rich history of supernova events, with five recorded since 1900, along with a notable nova event. In comparison, the Milky Way has not had a confirmed supernova in the past 400 years. The Pinwheel Galaxy contains 2 to 10 times more stars than our own galaxy and exhibits active star formation, possibly due to gravitational interactions with its smaller companion galaxies.

SN 2023ixf is a Type II supernova, representing the closest confirmed example of this type since 2004. It is an exciting opportunity for astronomers to study and understand the nature of supernova events and their impact on galaxy evolution. Observations of the Pinwheel Galaxy and its supernova will continue to provide valuable insights into the life cycles of stars and the dynamics of galaxies.

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