Spectacular stellar explosion unveiled: New supernova discovered in M101

Astronomers observe a rare supernova in the Pinwheel Galaxy, a massive stellar explosion captivating the night sky.
Kavita Verma
The Pinwheel Galaxy
The Pinwheel Galaxy


Over the past few days, astronomers have been enthralled by a unique phenomenon taking place in the springtime night sky – a brand-new supernova that has suddenly appeared in a well-known celestial object. The Pinwheel Galaxy, commonly known as Messier 101 or M101, is a sizable and loosely wrapped spiral galaxy found outside of the Milky Way. It is where this amazing event is currently taking place.

A tiny telescope can be used to observe the Pinwheel Galaxy, which is distinguished by its open-faced spiral arms under sufficiently dark skies. However, because of its dispersed nature, finding it requires a wide field of view and a low-power eyepiece. Long-exposure images taken recently have shown the appearance of a new star within this galaxy where none had been observed before.

Situated near the border

Near the line dividing Ursa Major (the Big Bear) from Boötes, the Herdsman is a remarkable supernova. To find it, visualize a line extending between Alioth to Mizar, two stars in the handle of the Big Dipper. This route can be extended past Mizar to take observers toward M101. 

Amateur astronomers who are familiar with M101 may be able to spot the supernova as a distinctive speck of light within one of the spiral arms. However, because of the Pinwheel Galaxy's apparent size, which is around one-third the diameter of the Moon, it can be difficult to see against the backdrop sky due to how bright it is overall. This explains why it was challenging to see both the galaxy and the supernova.

The origin story

It is thought that the recently discovered supernova came from a star that was far bigger and more massive than the Sun. This enormous star's size would exceed Mars' orbit if it were to take the place of the Sun in our solar system.

Within their cores, stars produce energy by fusing hydrogen with helium. A star's energy output rises as helium is accumulated, and this causes the star to enlarge and become a red giant or supergiant. 

However, a star's fate is decided when the core starts to create iron. Energy is not produced during the synthesis of elements heavier than iron. The outcome is a catastrophic supernova explosion that unleashes an astounding rush of light and energy that is equivalent to that of 10 billion regular stars. As a result, the star falls under its massive weight.

Although the supernova event did not happen recently, its light has now finally reached Earth after traveling an incredible 21 million light-years. In the upcoming days, astronomers will keep an eye on the explosion, watching for any variations in brightness before it eventually goes away.

Guides on the best telescopes and binoculars are a fantastic place to start for enthusiasts hoping to see celestial wonders like the Pinwheel Galaxy or other night sky occurrences. Also available are tutorials on shooting the moon and suggestions for the best astrophotography cameras and lenses for individuals who want to take their own pictures of such occasions.

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