“There are going to be dozens of observatories following this,” said Stan Woosley, professor of astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz. “It will probably be the most observed object in the sky.”
Nugent said the supernova is getting brighter by the minute, and increasing in brightness by sixfold each night.
“Our best guess is it will continue to brighten until sometime in the first week or second week of September,” he said. “But that’s if it’s a normal supernova. We think it’s normal, but we’re not sure because we’ve never seen one this early.”
The size of the supernova, which is related to its brightness, has also grown exponentially since it was discovered. Nugent said the supernova had grown from about the size of Earth — that was pre-explosion — to slightly larger than the distance between the sun and Jupiter by the time we spotted it. It will continue to grow over the next couple of weeks.
If SN 2011fe does act as Nugent expects, even people without access to super-high-tech telescopes will be able to see the supernova with small 4-inch telescopes or strong binoculars in really dark skies in early September.
It shouldn’t be too hard to find. The Pinwheel Galaxy sits north of the last two stars in the Big Dipper’s handle, forming a roughly equilateral triangle with them.
Nugent suggests looking just after sunset.
Image: The arrow marks SN 2011fe in images taken on the Palomar 48-inch telescope over the nights of, from left to right, Aug. 22, 23 and 24. The supernova wasn’t there Aug. 22, was discovered on Aug. 23, and brightened considerably on Aug. 24. Credit: Peter Nugent and the Palomar Transient Factory
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