If you don’t have the chance to spot a new supernova explosion in the night sky, don’t worry — it should last for another year, maybe more. And it won’t disappear quickly — scientists expect it will fade slowly until it can no longer be seen in visible light.
The new supernova made its first appearance on May 19 when supernova hunter Koichi Itagaki of Yamagata, Japan detected a new bright spot in the Pinwheel galaxy. The supernova was confirmed the next day by the Zwicky Transit Facility (ZTF) in California.
Fortunately for sky watchers and astrophotographers, astronomers expect the supernova to be visible for some time. “We expect the brightness to remain somewhat constant for weeks, if not months,” Daniel Birley, an astrophysicist at the John Moores Observatory in Liverpool, told Space.com. “You will stay bright.”
Related: How do you see the new supernova in the Pinwheel galaxy
If you want to catch a glimpse of supernova SN 2023ixf, our guides on the best telescopes and the best telescopes for beginners are a great place to start. Make sure you get the right telescope lens! A low-magnification, wide-angle lens should do the trick.
And if you’re looking to take pictures of a supernova, the pinwheel galaxy, or the night sky in general, check out our guides on the best cameras for astrophotography and the best lenses for astrophotography.
Currently, the supernova, known as SN 2023ixf, is one of the largest and brightest in a decade. Although they are beyond the vision of the naked human eye, they can be easily seen with a small telescope or even high-magnification binoculars. It is located in the Messier 101 (or M101) galaxy, also known as the Pinwheel Galaxy, and has quickly become a favorite target for amateur astronomers and their professional colleagues.
Burley believes that it will retain its present brightness for “a long time, maybe even a couple of months.” Then the supernova will start to fade. “Over the course of the next year, two, or three years, it will finally fade to low detectability again,” Burley said.
Most normal type II supernovae, the same designation as SN 2023ixf, have a constant brightness for about 100 days before they start to decline, says Peter Brown, a Texas A&M Supernova researcher.
But the new explosion is a little different from its predecessors, according to Brown. Most type II supernovae fall sharply into the ultraviolet range immediately after their detection, but SN 2023ixf has been consistently bright, saturated observations made with NASA’s Swift multiwave telescope.
“Because this is different, it may fizzle out” in the future, Brown said. “But it can still be bright enough for an amateur astronomer with a good telescope to see for several months.”
A supernova glows as material ejected from the star interacts with its surroundings. So even if it starts to dim, SN 2023ixf could temporarily glow if it interacts with the dense clouds or shells surrounding the dying star.
Even after it can no longer be seen at visible wavelengths, the supernova will likely continue to shine in other parts of the spectrum. Large telescopes should be able to observe the new discovery for years, Brown said, while space instruments such as NASA’s Hubble Telescope or the James Webb Space Telescope may be able to study the explosion for decades.
However, you probably shouldn’t wait another 12 months to pull your telescope out. While scientists expect the supernova to survive for some time, there is no guarantee.
“It can still surprise us,” Burley said. “We don’t know for sure.”
Editor’s note: If you took a photo of SN 2023ixf, and would like to share it with Space.com readers, send your photo(s), comments, name, and location to [email protected].
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