Thursday, September 8, 2011

No supernova, but the star party goes on

The science world was abuzz last week with the sighting of a spectacular galactic event, the kind that only comes once in several decades.

Astronomers at the Palomar Transient Factory in southern California discovered a white dwarf star in a distant galaxy exploding into a bright supernova. It’s been 25 years since astronomers last saw this kind of supernova bursting in the night sky.

The sighting comes as the University of Illinois Springfield is revving up it its own campus observatory for public star parties. From 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 9, UIS will have its first star party this fall, offering close glimpses of the moon, star clusters and other stellar sights.

Hosted by UIS astronomy professor John Martin, visitors will get a presentation on galaxies, stars and the sun while they ascend the staircase to the observatory.

But star watchers should note they won’t be able to see the newest supernova, called SN 2011fe. Although some recent news reports claim that the celestial happening is visible with binoculars, Martin says would-be supernova watchers might be unable to spot the object.

“I think the visibility of this supernova has been a bit exaggerated,” he said. “That’s something that somebody is going to be able to see in a small telescope, but that’s only at its peak brightness.”

Martin was featured in an September 8, 2011, article in the Illinois Times.

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