A supernova dubbed SN 2023ixf was discovered on May 19, 2023 by the Japanese astronomer Koichi Itagaki.
Messier 101 is located some 21 million light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Ursa Major.
This spiral galaxy was discovered by the French astronomer Pierre Méchain in 1781 and was communicated that year to the French astronomer Charles Messier.
Also known as the Pinwheel Galaxy, M101, NGC 5457, LEDA 50063 or UGC 8981, Messier 101 is one of the most photographed galaxies in the night sky.
“Its face-on orientation to Earth offers a pristine view of its 170,000 light-year diameter and allows observers to marvel at its nearly one trillion stars,” said Gemini North astronomers.
“Speckled throughout its swirling spiral arms are large regions of star-forming nebulae, indicated by the glowing pink pockets of light.”
“Young, hot, blue stars populate the galaxy as well, interlaced with dark dust lanes that aid in fueling the newly birthed stars.”
On May 19, 2023, a powerful supernova exploded in one of Messier 101’s spiral arms.
Dubbed SN 2023ixf, the event is the closest supernova seen in the past five years.
Since its discovery, observers around the globe have pointed their telescopes toward Messier 101 to get a look at the burst of light.
“In this image from the Gemini North telescope, part of the International Gemini Observatory operated by NSF’s NOIRLab, SN 2023ixf can be spotted in one of the galaxy’s spiral arms as an exceptionally bright blue star,” the astronomers said.
“Follow-up observations of SN 2023ixf by both amateur and professional astronomers indicate that it is a Type II supernova.”
“This is the closest supernova to be discovered within the last five years and the second supernova to occur in Messier 101 within the past 15 years, following a Type I supernova observed in 2011.”
This supernova is a prime example of the types of discoveries that will be made by Vera C. Rubin Observatory when it comes online in 2025.
Rubin’s powerful camera and unprecedented scanning ability will allow it to quickly detect and image supernovae and other transient events in the dynamic sky.
Other powerful telescopes, like those that comprise the International Gemini Observatory, will then make follow-up observations to study the origins and evolution of these events.