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How to See the Supernova Berkeley Lab Just Discovered

September 1, 2011 - 10:12am

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Berkeley Lab scientist Peter Nugent discusses a recently discovered supernova that is closer to Earth — approximately 21 million light-years away — than any other of its kind in a generation.

Skywatchers -- grab your binoculars and telescopes, and head for some clear dark skies. A new supernova has been discovered near the Big Dipper.

Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California, Berkeley caught the supernova just hours after its explosion, a rare feat made possible with a specialized survey telescope and state-of-the-art computational tools. The researchers note that this supernova belongs to a special category of events called Type Ia, which are used as cosmic distance markers to measure our universe's expansion.

According to astronomers, this is the closest and brightest supernova of this type detected in the last 30 years and will be closely studied for years to come. In the above video, Berkeley Lab's Peter Nugent explains how to find the event with a small telescope or pair of binoculars.

At a mere 21 million light-years away from Earth, a relatively small distance by astronomical standards, the supernova appears so bright that you may be able to see it with a good pair of binoculars over the next few weeks. The best time will be in the first few hours after sunset.

If you are in the San Francisco Bay area, swing by the Chabot Space & Science Center on September 10 to meet the astronomers that discovered the supernova, and see it for yourself through the museum's giant, historic telescopes (weather permitting). The telescope viewing is free.

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is part of the Energy Department's Office of Science. More information on the discovery is here.

 

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