On the 19th of May 2023, an amateur astronomer named Koichi Itagaki discovered a new supernova on the Pinwheel Galaxy; this event to say the least, is the most exciting one for astrophysicists, astrophotographers and scientists at large around the world as this event gives us an opportunity to study and understand our universe even better.
This Type 2 supernova, which is one of the brightest seen in recent years, has been named SN 2023ixf.
The Pinwheel Galaxy also known as Messier 101 (M101) is a large galaxy with a diameter of around 170,000 light years and is about 20.87 million light years away from us. This galaxy has been a hot topic of discussion recently among the Astro community.
What is a Supernova ? In short, a supernova is an event that occurs when a star violently explodes. Supernovas are incredibly bright and can outshine the entire galaxies for a brief period of time. They are also a storehouse of energy one can only imagine, releasing more energy in a single explosion than our Sun will emit in its entire lifetime. Supernovae occur when a star reaches the end of its lifespan; as a star ages, it burns through its fuel eventually running out of hydrogen. The star then begins to fuse heavier elements such as helium and carbon and when these elements are exhausted too, the star implodes into itself. This collapse releases a tremendous amount of energy which in-turn causes the star to explode.
Supernovas can be categorized into two types: Type 1a and Type 2. Type 1a supernovae occur when a white dwarf star pulls matter from a companion star and when the white dwarf star reaches a critical mass, it explodes. Type 2 supernovae occur when a massive star runs out of fuel and collapses into itself.
SN 2023ixf has been constantly getting brighter since its discovery and is now about 200 times brighter than the Sun. It is currently visible through a telescope but expected to become visible to the naked eye too! The discovery of SN 2023ixf is a rare and exciting event as it provides astronomers with a unique opportunity to study a supernova and the universe at large in detail. Scientists are using telescopes around the world to observe and collect data from the supernova that will help them to better understand the physics of supernova explosions.
Over time, the debris from this supernova will spread out into space most likely forming a nebula in the Pinwheel galaxy. The supernova will also leave behind a neutron star or a black hole which will continue to exist for billions of years to come.
This is an image I captured of the Pinwheel galaxy with the supernova on the 14th June 2023. As you look at the image, take into consideration that this event would have “actually” happened over 20 million years ago; thanks to the speed of light which in a way can be perceived as time travel for us to witness this today!