The Red Planet, the Barred Spiral, and the Supernova

By Phil Plait | March 26, 2012 1:30 pm

Speaking of Mars… I got a note from amateur astronomer Bill Longo recently. On March 19, he went out in the early evening to try to get a picture of a satellite that happened to be passing near Mars in the sky. He took the image below. The satellite isn’t in this shot, but he did get more than he bargained for: he saw Mars, the galaxy M95, and the new supernova!

[Click to supernovenate.]

That’s a happy coincidence. He didn’t even know the supernova had gone off until the next morning. He checked the images from the night before, et voila. The picture itself is amazing; Mars was about 400,000 × brighter than the supernova when he took this shot! The two "wings" coming from it are due to internal reflections in Bill’s optics. But you can clearly see both the galaxy and the supernova in the image.

I’ve already posted some gorgeous shots of the supernova and the galaxy (see Related Posts below) but I think this may be my favorite. It’s not often you see a planet, a galaxy, and a supernova all in one shot… and without the photographer even knowing it at the time!

Related Posts:

Breaking: possible supernova in nearby spiral M95
Supernova 2012aw: the pictures!
More M95 supernova news: progenitor found!
Go look at Mars!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: Bill Longo, M95, Mars, SN2012aw

Comments (20)

  1. gameshowhost

    n/m i figured it out. ūüėź

  2. Joel

    This is a wonderful shot. Aside from the sheer greatness of capturing the supernova, the optical flare around Mars is really rather beautiful.

    (How long before this starts turning up on nutters’ websites as “Astronomer photographs Angel!!!”?)

  3. alfaniner

    A planet, a galaxy, and a supernova all walk into a cantina…

  4. Messier Tidy Upper

    Magnificent image and wionderful co-incidence of astronomical placementand timing. :-)

    Oddly enough the objects are actually appearing in reverse absolute brightness order aren’t they?

    Mars seems brightest but is far outshone by a n entire galaxy which in turn, is, I believe, outshone albeit very temporarily by a single supernova going star!

  5. HP

    @ alfaniner #3: And the bartender says, “What’s up?”

  6. alfaniner

    @HP #5: The planet says, “My albedo.” The galaxy says, “I’m nebulous, thanks for asking!” The supernova says “My magnitude is improving!”

  7. HP

    @alfaniner #6: You know, I’ve reached the age where my albedo sometimes flags. It’s good to know I’m not alone. But when it’s on, it’s on, and I want everyone to know.

  8. Nigel Depledge

    The BA said:

    It’s not often you see a planet, a galaxy, and a supernova all in one shot… and without the photographer even knowing it at the time!

    To be fair, he knew about the planet and the galaxy.

  9. Thameron

    I thought it was a picture of the Night Flight of The Golden Snitch.

  10. Electro

    Is it just me, or does the Supernova seem REALLY far away from the object tagged as M95?

    I am unsure of the perspective and scale.

    Could someone illuminate me here?

  11. my son is infatuated with the planets. It looks like I’m going to be in the market for a decent telescope. i’m thinking amazon or something? any thoughts?

  12. ceramicfundamentalist

    BA: are you sure when you say: “The satellite isn‚Äôt in this shot”? i can see a really faint line crossing the image just under where it says “path of satellite”.

    @ 10 electro: this image is probably a very short exposure (a few seconds) so we can’t see very much of the galaxy, just the brightest part of the core. if the exposure was longer we’d probably be able to see that the supernova is in one of the more diffuse spiral arms.

    edit: if you google “supernova m95” you can find images clearly showing the supernova resides in one of the spiral arms.

  13. Keith

    It’s a beautiful picture.

    Is M96 also visible in this shot? I don’t see it, but maybe that’s just me? Or would it be just off the bottom of the frame?

  14. Josh H

    Michael Bay would be proud ūüėõ

  15. Electro


    Thanks for input, but what my brain was questioning was, is M95’s disc really that big?
    I almost thought that the “M95” tag was misplaced.

    I have seen the the close-ups, so to speak, and it seems to appear that, in the posted image ( not the Supernovenated source image ), the M95 disc would be the size of a dime.
    To my untrained eye, the scale seemed counterintuitive.

  16. Musical Lottie

    Ooh, very cool!

    @12 ceramicfundamentalist I agree – I wasn’t sure if I was just imagining it, but there’s definitely a very faint streak there.

  17. Jay Fox

    Go to You-tube and type in “messier objects” in the search bar. They have up to date videos on both the M95 galaxy and the supernova. Great stuff.

  18. mike

    Hmm. As pretty a shot as this is, I’m not convinced that’s SN 2012aw. In a small scope the supernova is one of 3 or 4 13th magnitude “stars” that form a nice diagonal line that should show up close below M95 heading from lower left to upper right at something like a 45 degree angle in this image. (Take a look at some of the longer-exposure shots available at to see what I mean). These are pretty faint, and most importantly all roughly the same brightness as the supernova. Directly to the west (the right in the pic) of M95 is a brighter 10th magnitude star that’s much easier to see in a small scope (and comparable in brightness to the core of M95 itself)(very easy to see with Stellarium). Since we’re really only seeing the one lonely object to the right of M95 here, I’m thinking it may be the brighter (because vastly closer) star, not the dimmer nova.

  19. Bubbles

    @Mike I rotated and resized the images so they were more comparable, and the two stars are in the same position. Were you just looking at the thumbnail, or were you looking at the whole image located here?

  20. mike

    Mea culpa. I was not just looking at the thumbnail, but may have misjudged the scale of the photo.


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