New pic: SN2011fe in M101

By Phil Plait | October 1, 2011 12:10 pm

If you were wondering what was going on with the bright new supernova in the spiral galaxy M101, it’s now getting very difficult to observe due to its proximity to the Sun in the sky. But happily my friend, the accomplished astronomer Travis Rector, got a shot of it using the Mayall 4-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory. I would venture to say it’s one of the prettiest ones I’ve seen so far:

[Click to Chandrasekharenate.]

This was taken on September 18th, and the supernova is the bright blue star above and to the right of the center of the picture (to the left of the fuzzy red nebula). Pictures like this are important in pinning down the exact location of the supernova in the galaxy, so that after it fades the potential prescursor star can be found (though in this case, we already have pretty decent Hubble images of the field). Also, of course, big telescopes with sensitive detectors can give very accurate brightness measurements, which are absolutely critical in understanding how these objects change with time. This particular flavor of supernova is key to our understanding the size and scale of the Universe itself, so the more data — and the more accurate the data — we have, the better.

Image credit: T.A. Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage), H. Schweiker & S. Pakzad NOAO/AURA/NSF

Related posts:

AAS 15: Travisty of astronomy (links to many of Travis Rector’s must-see photos!)
Supernova update: it’s peaking now!
M101 supernova update
AstroAlert: Type Ia supernova in M101!
Dwarf merging makes for an explosive combo
Hubble delivers again: M101

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures

Comments (9)

  1. BethKatz

    I must be missing something because I don’t see why the supernova would be hard to observe due to proximity to the sun. Hard because it is fading in magnitude, yes. But I saw that area of the sky very well in somewhat late evening Thursday night. Increasing moonlight will soon be a problem.

  2. To insure proper credit for this image of the SN in M101, I note that Travis Rector processed the images to produce the final color composite but the work at the 4m telescope is courtesy of Heidi Schweiker and Sabrina Pakzad.

  3. OtherRob

    If the sun is too bright, just wait until it’s night. ūüėČ

  4. jack21222

    I saw the supernova Thursday night through a 14 inch telescope on the roof of my university’s science building. The ‘scope isn’t big enough to see any detail (just a little smudge, brighter than its surroundings), but we took a spectrum of it. It was a pretty neat experience to see how astronomical data is obtained.

  5. Gary Miles
  6. ChazInMT

    Seriously, you may wanna look closer at the first sentence here. Are you OK Phil? Are we being Punkt? Last I checked, objects located 36¬≠¬į off the north star would be difficult to get into proximity to the Sun…..maybe after Dec 2012 they’ll end up there, Galactic Alignment and Earth being knocked off its axis and all, of course we’ll all be too dead to care about such things.

    2011fe peaked at about a 10 magnitude and is only now down to 11….very confused in MT.

  7. Pete Jackson

    The Sun is getting close to having the same right ascension as M101, so that on the equator, they will rise and set at the same time and you won’t be able to see M101 at all. In the southern hemisphere, it’s even worse since M101 will rise several hours after the Sun and set several hours before the Sun. But all is glory at high northern latitudes, since M101, at declination +54 degrees, will rise several hours before the Sun and set several hours after the Sun. Just crank your telescope far over to the n0rtheast (morning) or northwest (evening).

    This is payback for SN1987A which was in the Magellanic Clouds!

    There aren’t many large observatories at high northern latitudes because of climatic and astronomical reasons (center of our Milky Way galaxy is in the southern sky), but there is a good one in Victoria, British Columbia (Dominion Astrophysical Observatory).

  8. I observed it for the first time this lunar cycle on Thur night.
    In my 18″ f/4.5 it was very easy to see at 100x. Bumping the power up to 200X revealed more structure in the galaxy and really gave the SN a nice framing. A good finder chart is a must.

    Not sure how much longer before we loose M101 into the sunset. Getting pretty low right now and had to pick it up between some trees as it was. Maybe another 2 – 3weeks. Might get a shot after the next full moon, but it will require a very clear and dark NW horizon.

  9. ChazInMT

    @Pete Jackson: OK, Thanks for that explanation! I was wondering what the Hey. Yer awesome!


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