On August 24th, an international team of astronomers discovered what they referred to as "an instant cosmic classic" — the brightest, closest, and youngest supernova we've detected in decades. In fact, the supernova, dubbed PTF11kly, has now reached peak brightness, making it bright enough to spy with a pair of binoculars.
Up top is a video released by the Berkeley National Laboratory detailing what you'll need and where to look to catch the supernova in the midst of its violent explosion. According to Peter Nugent, the senior astronomer at the Berkeley lab who first spotted the exploding star:
In a decent sized pair of binoculars (25x80's or 25x100's) or a small telescope (just something greater than 3 inches) you should be able to see this supernova in the pinwheel galaxy as it reaches peak brightness by September 9th.
The supernova is located in the pinwheel galaxy in the constellation Ursa Major — better known as the big dipper, and the easiest way to find it is to take the last two stars in the handle of the big dipper, form an equilateral triangle heading north, and bang you'll find the pinwheel galaxy.
According to NPR, the best time to see the exploding star will be just after sunset, before the rising moon washes out the night sky with light pollution.
Astronomers everywhere are calling the chance to see the explosion the opportunity of a lifetime. According to Mark Sullivan, who led the team of Oxford astronomers that helped discover the supernova:
Whilst it looks more or less like just another bright star, unlike its companions this supernova will soon fade away, and after a few days it will only be visible with larger telescopes.
For many people it could be a once in a lifetime chance to see a supernova of this kind blossom and then fade before their eyes; we may not see another one like it for another forty, or perhaps over a hundred, years!
The supernova will begin fading over the next few days, but should remain visible as the moon's brightness wanes with it — so if you don't catch PTF11kly tonight, be sure to get a good look at some point in the next few days!
Top image via BJ Fulton/Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network