Another Urban Supernova

SN2011fe on DSS image of M101Amazing! Another supernova within reach of urban amateur astronomers has appeared in galaxy M101 in Ursa Major. Supernova SN 2011fe (also known by its preliminary name of PTF11kly) is already brighter than SN 2011dn at maximum. As of August 28th, it had reached magnitude 11.7 and was still brightening at roughly half a magnitude a day. Some predictions have SN 2011fe potentially surpassing 10th magnitude, making it a fantastic opportunity to view a supernova even in small telescopes. I've generated some finder charts to help you see SN 2011fe; however, you have to act fast if you want to see this supernova...

You have to act fast because two factors are working against you. The first is that M101 is already low on the western horizon at sunset and it will only get lower with each passing day. That leaves you a small and narrowing window to view SN 2011fe before it sets. It also means you need to observe from a site with a decent western horizon. The second factor working against you is the moon. New moon occurred on August 28th and first quarter will be on September 4th. That doesn't leave you much time before the brightening moon drowns out your view. The moon alone shouldn't be too much of a problem if SN 2011fe reaches 10th magnitude, but combine the moon with skies washed-out by light pollution and a low position on horizon and you can easily have a situation in which you just can't see it. So take advantage of the first clear night to look for SN 2011fe.

To find SN 2011fe, I have produced six finder charts using the AAVSO star chart plotter. The first five are the standard A through E scales. The sixth is the E-scale chart with a DSS image of M101 superimposed. As usual, I plotted the charts with north at the top and east on the left. If you prefer a different orientation you can plot your own using the AAVSO plotter by entering “SN 2011fe” for the object name. I've labeled some stars on the charts to help you find your way from chart to chart. On the A-scale chart I marked Mizar and Alkaid (the two trailing stars in the handle of the Big Dipper), along with 83 UMa and stars that I labeled A and B. In the following charts you'll find the same stars labeled A and B as well as other stars labeled C, D, and E.

I observed SN 2011fe on August 28th (immediately following hurricane Irene) and had no trouble finding it. It was easy to see just a little off from the mid-point of the line connecting stars C and E. The fact that there are no stars of comparable magnitude in the immediate vicinity make it easy to confirm the identification. To my eye SN 2011fe was slightly brighter than star E, which AAVSO lists at 11.7 magnitude.

So take a look at a star from another galaxy, get out there and see SN 2011fe while you can.



Your Finder Charts Rule!

Your finder charts were the only reason I was able to identify the supernova. Thank you! I was able to track it down in a sky washed out by the moon and light pollution around 04 UTC September 7th. It was an easy mark at 10th magnitude. Much easier than the nucleus of M101 even. Amazing that a single star 20 million light years away could outshine the combined light of tens of millions of stars!

Glad the charts helped

I'm glad the charts helped you catch SN 2011fe.  I'm jealous!  Due to poor weather here in the Washington, DC area, I haven't seen the supernova since Aug 30th.

Thanks for the site

Look forward to reading more of your posts. I live in NE Philly and am constantly battling washed out skies. And this site really helped. I took out my S&T Pocket Atlas last night and tried your assignment in Lyra. Took me awhile but I did it. I need to practice the whole size of dots equal magnitude. I assumed I'd be able to see everything listed in the atlas in my finder scope. But I started to get the hang of it until my fingers started getting too cole.

Plus I currently am cutting my teeth on a 6" Chinese Ebay reflector. I bought it off of Craigslist for $99 so it is easier for me to deal with its mediocre perforamance, considering how little I actually paid for it. I've added a telrad, 9x50 RACI finder scope, collimate it once a month, so it works decently, but suffers at higher magnification.

What is your take on Push to dobsonians? Is it worth the extra money in your opinion?

"Push to" Dobsonians

Using a "push to" is clearly a personal preference.  For observers in light polluted skies, a "push to" would be particularly advantagous for objects that are not located near relatively bright stars;  examples would be objects like the Helix nebula, (NGC 7293), the Blue Snowball (NGC 7662), M 77, or M 14.  Instead of having an extended star-hop starting at a distant 2nd or 3rd magnitude star, you could quickly "push to" that object.

On the other hand, in washed-out skies you will have a hard time seeing the low-surface brightness objects regardless of how you point your telescope.  For such objects, you are likely to need a finder chart of some kind to confirm you are looking in precisely the right place.  So I think in light polluted skies, a "push to" capability will mostly help for those objects that are relatively bright but located far away from brighter stars. 

I personally really enjoy star-hopping.  To me it is part of the fun of amateur astronomy: it adds to the challenge of locating the object and enhances the "satisfaction" I feel when I find it.  Years of star-hopping have also taught me my way around the constellations, making it more enjoyable now whenever I look up at the night sky.  So those are my thoughts on "push to" telescopes.  But as I said at the beginning, whether a "push to" is worth the cost is a personal decision based on what kind of observing you enjoy.

One last thought: join your local amateur astronomy club for an observing night.  At least one person there is likely to have a "push to" rig and I'm sure they would let you try it out.  The Northern Virginia Astronomy Club even has loaner scopes you could borrow to see how they work for you; other clubs might have similar offerings.