Robert's tutorial: Seek a new supernova
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.
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.
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.