A celestial spectacle unfolding some 120-trillion miles from Earth is being carefully watched by space experts and novices at the University of Northern Iowa.
Siobahn Morgan, an astronomy professor at U.N.I., says a very distant star is going supernova — meaning, it’s exploding — one of the most powerful events in the universe.
“It’s been about 300 years since folks in the Northern Hemisphere have been able to see a supernova easily with the naked eye,” Morgan says. “There was a supernova visible to folks in the Southern Hemisphere in 1987 but to see a supernova clearly, without the aid of a telescope or binoculars, is very rare.” She says supernovas are actually a daily event but they can typically only be seen through a large telescope at an observatory.
“We’re scanning literally thousands of galaxies each night to find these things,” Morgan says. “To find them in a relatively nearby galaxy, and nearby in this case is 20-million light years, is rare.” She compares this supernova’s proximity to having a celebrity move into your neighborhood and the event has electrified the star-gazing community.
The supernova, named S-N-2011-f-e, is not visible to the naked eye. Eight-inch diameter telescopes that are guided by computers will be set up on the Cedar Falls campus on Friday night to view the exploding star.
“It’s at its peak brightness right now and will stay there for a little while and then will start fading away slowly so it’ll be even more difficult to view,” Morgan says. “The important thing is that people can say they’ve seen a supernova. It won’t knock their socks off but it will at least give them a chance to knock it off their bucket list.”
The free viewing is scheduled from 8 to 10 P.M. Friday on the grassy area west of the U.N.I. campanile.