A star in a distant galaxy has gone supernova, and you can watch the celestial spectacle for yourself through your telescope.
Last week, astronomers observing the popular Pinwheel galaxy observed a star in one of the galaxy’s arms shining in a brilliant point of light. Shortly afterwards it was confirmed that the star was a new supernova, designated SN 2023ixf, located about 21 million light-years from Earth. Already, both professional and amateur astronomers from around the world are turning their telescopes and cameras on the site to observe this somewhat rare phenomenon.
If you want to see this new supernova for yourself, you’re in luck. The Pinwheel galaxy, also known as Messier 101 or M101, is not particularly difficult to locate and observe even with small telescopes.
Related: This new supernova is the closest to Earth in a decade. It’s visible in the night sky right now.
Locating the Pinwheel Galaxy
Fortunately for northern hemisphere skygazers, the Pinwheel Galaxy is circumpolar, meaning it stays above the horizon year-round. The galaxy is also located near Ursa Major, one of the world’s most recognizable constellations that is home to the Big Dipper asterism. The galaxy can be found near the two stars at the end of the “handle” of the Big Dipper, Mizar and Alkaid. M101 lies a few degrees northeast of a point roughly halfway between these two stars. (Your clenched fist held at arm’s length covers approximately 10 degrees of the sky.)
From New York City, the Big Dipper will be high in the northern sky just around sunset and will remain visible throughout the night, though it will dip further toward the horizon as the morning hours approach. .
If you’re unfamiliar with these stars, the Big Dipper, or Ursa Major, there are plenty of stargazing apps that can point you in the right direction using your phone or other mobile device.
Locating the supernova SN 2023ixf
Once you’ve located the Pinwheel Galaxy, it’s time to spot the new supernova. SN 2023ixf can be found towards the end of one of the galaxy’s spiral arms. It should be fairly easy to identify, as it will appear brighter than the other stars in the galaxy.
When looking at M101 and SN 2023ixf, be sure to find an area with as little light pollution as possible and allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness before searching for the spiral galaxy. Some galaxies can be quite faint in areas with significant light pollution, so be patient.
If you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of supernova SN 2023ixf, our guides to the best telescopes and the best telescopes for beginners are a great place to start. Make sure you get the correct telescope eyepiece! A lower magnification wide angle eyepiece should suffice.
And if you’re looking to take photos of the 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.
editor’s note: If you take a picture of SN 2023ixf and want to share it with Space.com readers, please send your photos, comments, and your name and location to [email protected].