February Night Sky

M1 finder chartThe supernova in M82 is well placed for observers in the UK from late evening onwards. Much has been made of its being the nearest supernova for years, but I haven’t seem much commentary about the rash of supernovas we have been seeing in Ursa Major galaxies – in M101 in autumn 11, and in M51 a few months earlier. However, M82, and hence its supernova, are closer to us. I haven’t seen it for a few days, but reports suggest its magnitude has now peaked at 10.5. This is about the same maximum as the M101 supernova, more than twice as far away, but we are seeing it edge on through the plane of M82, so its light is dimmed by dust in that very active galaxy.

This would also be a good time to see the brightest remains of a recent supernova in our own galaxy – M1 (The Crab Nebula) in Taurus, which was seen to explode by Chinese astronomers in 1054, when it was brighter than Venus. Now it is a magnitude 8 irregular oval, and easy enough to pick up in a telescope, or even binoculars. Taurus in almost overhead by late evening.The map above shows how to find M1 – just one degree or so towards Perseus from zeta Tauri, which is the tip of the fainter, and lower, horn sprouting from the V shape of Taurus’ head. One mistake I tend to make in the field, is to start from the brighter upper horn, beta Tauri.