Robert's tu­to­rial: Seek a new su­per­nova

All About Space - - Stargazer -

Set­ting up the te­le­scope

1 I did my search­ing vis­ually with a 40-cen­time­tre (16-inch) back­yard te­le­scope, sim­ply ob­serv­ing through the eye­piece. The ben­e­fit of ob­serv­ing su­per­novae vis­ually for those interested in sci­ence, and in a hobby, is see­ing some­thing spe­cial and fleet­ing. It is the same as do­ing am­a­teur as­tron­omy.

Know­ing what you’re look­ing for

2 Be­fore a night's ob­serv­ing, you must know which gal­ax­ies you are go­ing to search, and have good ref­er­ence pho­tos for each. There are web­sites which tell you where su­per­novae have been found re­cently, and you can tell whether they are bright enough or not for you to see through your te­le­scope.

Seper­at­ing from light pol­lu­tion

3 Any am­a­teur as­tronomer knows which part of the sky is avail­able on any night, or any hour of the night. Also, you have to know how much light pol­lu­tion has limited the sky where you are liv­ing. Ob­vi­ously faint ob­jects can only be seen from a lo­ca­tion where the sky is prop­erly dark and where light pol­lu­tion is min­i­mal.

Con­sis­tent view­ing

4 I tried to ob­serve each galaxy once ev­ery week or so. It’s pos­si­ble to dis­cover su­per­novae vis­ually sim­ply by know­ing where the bright­est gal­ax­ies can be seen. This can be done with a sky at­las, and by look­ing reg­u­larly. If I searched 500 gal­ax­ies reg­u­larly, I stood a good chance of find­ing a su­per­nova once or twice a year.

Notic­ing the dif­fer­ence

5 Search each galaxy in­stantly, spend­ing only a minute on each galaxy. In this case, you can ob­serve as many gal­ax­ies as you can in the time you have avail­able. You must be ex­pe­ri­enced enough so that you recog­nise any new ob­jects, and fol­low them up to see what they are. The more you ob­serve, the eas­ier it will be to recog­nise fea­tures.

Re­quest­ing backup

6 An ex­pe­ri­enced ob­server who avoids mak­ing mis­takes must ver­ify each sus­pect, and you must learn how to re­port any dis­cov­ery. Make sure you have a friend who knows what to do. Some su­per­novae are very bright and are ob­vi­ous to you, while oth­ers are very hard to recog­nise. It is al­ways good to get a sec­ond opin­ion.

Robert Evans Aus­tralia-based Robert is an ex­pe­ri­enced am­a­teur as­tronomer as well as a former min­is­ter of the Unit­ing Church in Aus­tralia, re­tir­ing in 1998. Robert cur­rently holds the record for the most dis­cov­er­ies of su­per­novae made vis­ually, which to­tal 42 dis­cov­er­ies.

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