A new supernova in the Pinwheel Galaxy (M101) has been observed by astronomers at Oxford University. Dubbed PTF11kly, it will get brighter over the coming days making it visible through a good pair of binoculars.
The team lead by Dr Mark Sullivan made the discovery using a robotic telescope at the Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, California.
“The most exciting thing is that this is what’s known as a type 1a supernova – the kind we use to measure the expansion of the Universe. Seeing one explode so close by allows us to study these events in unprecedented detail” said Dr Sullivan.
A Supernova occurs when a star reaches the end of its life, collapsing in on itself before exploding out into space, in an event that can be so bright as to even outshine an entire galaxy.
You can find M101 in the constellation Ursa Major (the Great Bear), for a guide to finding this constellation click on the image below.
The last time a supernova of this type was observed so close was 1972.
Sky-Watching will be trying to get a look at this bright new addition to the night sky, if we get a decent clear evening or two over the coming week!