The night sky was lit up by a new supernova that burst into a brilliant display of light, drawing the attention of many observers. A telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii had the best view of the cosmic spectacle and recorded the images of the aftermath.
The supernova was spotted for the first time by Koichi Itagaki, a Japanese astronomer who has a passion for hunting supernovae and has discovered more than 80 of them with his observatory in the mountains outside Yamagata, Japan. He noticed this unusually luminous star in the spiral arms of the Pinwheel Galaxy and promptly reported his finding to the International Astronomical Union.
The supernova was designated as SN 2023ixf, and it was the nearest one observed in five years. A supernova is a powerful explosion of a star at the end of its life cycle, releasing enormous amounts of energy and matter, forming a bright column of light. It is one of the most amazing and mysterious events in the universe.
The Pinwheel Galaxy is located in the direction of the Ursa Major constellation, about 21 million light-years away from Earth. The galaxy faces Earth directly, showing its stunning spiral structure and nearly 1 trillion stars. It resembles a huge windmill, slowly spinning in the dark night sky.
The galaxy’s spiral arms are filled with nebulae, which are regions where stars are born, shown in pink light. The blue dots of light in the image taken by the Hawaii telescope reflect the number of young, hot stars. Dark dust regions are used as one of the key ingredients for star formation.
The new supernova shines bright blue in one of the galaxy’s spiral arms in the bottom left of the image. It looks like a blue diamond attached to the windmill. Astronomers believe it is a Type II supernova, when a massive star between eight and 50 times the mass of our sun runs out of its nuclear fuel supply, collapses and explodes. It is the second supernova seen in the Pinwheel Galaxy in 15 years.
Astronomers are using telescopes to observe the newly discovered supernova to better understand how stars explode and track how the brightness of the explosion evolves and fades over time. They hope to uncover clues to important questions such as cosmic evolution and element formation.
The new image taken of the supernova’s aftermath by the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii marks the observatory’s first return to scientific observations after a seven-month hiatus. The telescope’s primary mirror was damaged in October while it was being moved, sustaining a chipped edge. The primary mirror has been repaired, given a new layer of protective coating and reinstalled, allowing the telescope to resume its search of the night sky for cosmic phenomena. The image of the supernova also served as a successful test for the mirror repair work.