A supernova is a stellar explosion that is more energetic than a nova.   Supernovae are extremely luminous and cause a burst of radiation that often briefly outshines an entire galaxy, before fading from view over several weeks or months.  During this short interval a supernova can radiate as much energy as the Sun is expected to emit over its entire life span.  The explosion expels much or all of a star's material at a velocity of up to 30,000 km/s (10% of the speed of light), driving a shock wave into the surrounding interstellar medium.  This shock wave sweeps up an expanding shell of gas and dust called a supernova remnant.

Light Output vs. Time for a Supernova

Simulator courtesy of University of Nebraska-Lincoln

CCD Supernova Hunting

In the last few years, the cost of charge-coupled devices (CCD) has fallen to the point where students and amateurs can afford to use them on computer controlled telescopes.  Some of these amateurs are hunting for supernovae with resounding successes. Telescopes with CCDs and computer control have a number of advantages:
  1. It is possible to observe in locations with some light pollution, or in the presence of fairly strong moonlight.
  2. With a computer it is easy to direct the telescope to specific galaxies.
  3. With the proper computer control of the telescope, the imaging is done through a computer screen.
  4. If your equipment is sophisticated enough, you may find supernovae automatically.
  5. With this type of equipment you will find stars as faint as 18th or 19th magnitude accessible, which includes the brighter and fainter supernovae in nearby galaxies.  Brighter supernovae may be observed in more distant galaxies.
For more information on the latest supernovae, click here.
Student Project Finding Supernovae