Did I see a supernova explosion?

  • I think I just saw a supernova explode with my own eyes through my GSO 12 inch Dobsonian. Please tell me what it was! I am still trying to find what it was it was mindblowing!

    I went out on my roof around 18:20 (New Delhi, India) and was looking up thinking we are going to have clear skies tonight.

    Suddenly I could see the bright star without the telescope and I was surprised to see such a bright object near zenith so I ran in and got my telescope out.
    When I looked through the scope It was looking like a bright bubble very shiny and the outer surface seemed brighter. I thought my collimation was out so I collimated the scope and it was not too off.
    After collimation, I could see a small object in orbit around the star/object. As I continued to observe it, it suddenly exploded like fireworks and tiny particles shining very brightly started to swirl in waves and dimmed quickly. This was around 18:38 I took pictures with my phone through the eyepiece and the sky was still lit and blue in colour.
    The below pics are edited in snap seed on my phone.

    After explosion

    BEfore explosion

    How could you tell the small object was orbiting the larger?

    It sounds like you saw a rocket launch, but without the photos, we can't tell. I'd love to see them, please edit your question to make sure the pics uploaded properly.

    Granted that you're waving 12", but if you saw something orbiting (as distinct from adjacent) that implies that it was very close in. Unless you can provide more info I'd go with the majority verdict and suggest a weather balloon with an instrument package swinging beneath it. Although how you got a 12" 'scope out of the house, set up and aligned quickly enough to catch it is beyond my imagining... as is your lack of a better camera than a 'phone.

    Hi added the photos again. Hope you can see them now.

    @MarkMorganLloyd "Although how you got a 12" 'scope out of the house, set up and aligned quickly enough to catch it is beyond my imagining" it's easy for me to imagine, as it takes me less than 3 minutes to get my 10" Dob out and set up (and there is no alignment needed). "... as is your lack of a better camera than a 'phone" - why would a Dob owner have a better camera than a phone for their non-tracking telescope?

    @AaronF well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and the first of those photos is certainly a great credit to the OP, BUT if (as is the consensus so far) what he saw was comparatively nearby hence potentially fast-moving I think he was extremely lucky to catch it. But I'd still call a 12" dob rather better than a toy, and it deserves a half-decent image sensor robustly mounted at prime focus.

    @MarkMorganLloyd the problem is the lack of tracking, which reduces the number of potential targets to the planets and moon, as well as some of the brighter deep-space objects. I tried it with my 10" - I got a camera with the highly sensitive IMX385 sensor in it - and I've managed to get some photos which I'm happy with, as well as use it for live stacking with good results; but even with a focal reducer I'm limited to about ½-second exposures before the image starts to blur. The camera's not cheap and it's limited by the manual Dobsonian mount, so it's not a very common pairing...

    @AaronF I'd suggest that that would merit a question about the availability of tools for stacking multiple exposures taken with an undriven scope. There must be a lot of people in the same boat, particularly Dob owners.

    I trust I'm permitted to mention this https://www.banggood.com/search/1495576.html which at £42 is cheap enough to be fairly accessible. It's not brilliant, but one notable thing is that it's compact enough to mount on a folded-path 'scope that needs an eyepiece projection adapter to work with e.g. a traditional SLR.

    @MarkMorganLloyd that would work for the brightest objects but not much else. The sensitivity isn't great for low light and the pixel size is quite small. It would really need a tracking mount to be effective. The CMOS sensor in a recent phone camera would probably do a better job, I think. A cheap phone mount might be the best way to get started on a budget. With that you can learn the basics of data capture and processing. Another option is a star tracker mount and putting an existing camera on it. I went the astrocamera route because I don't already have an SLR and I do have a laptop.

    +1 For the photograph of a weather balloon explosion. I think you are the first one to have caught that on camera! I'm not joking. Do you have a video too?

  • Supernovae increase in brightness over several days and decrease over months. Thus, whatever you saw, was not a supernova, sorry.

    Additionally, the described visible motion of particles, at interstellar distances, would require faster-than-light movement to be discernible from earth as described.

    At this point we actually know there's an extremely short duration flash first before the brightening over several days. We knew it for computer simulations and only finally witnessed it in the last couple years when some armature astronomer happened to have a telescope capable of resolving the structure of Andromeda pointed it at the right time. But at a day old we already know the answer is no.

    @Joshua I couldn’t find anything about an initial flash (in a few minute search though). Only one paper with an initial flash in the UV that also lastet about a day or two. Can you provide some sources, please? Because then I may have to give back all my credit points...

    I think it's this event and I had the galaxy wrong. But that article is terrible. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180221131839.htm

    @Joshua thanks a lot! The original Nature article is behind a paywall, so I couldn’t determine the exact timescale of the brightening, but it seems to be about a few hours. This does still not match the observation by OP. Now for something completely different: I found the name of my PhD supervisor, Norbert Langer, on one of the citiations mentioned in the articles you send. Made my day! (my PhD is some 25 years ago). Thanks a lot, again!

  • I don't know about your country, but in the United States the major weather services launch instrumented balloons twice a day. They are about 1 or 2 meters in diameter. We often see them in the evening at the observatory, and your description matches. A bright star visible to the unaided eye in the twilight. The balloon and instruments hanging beneath the balloon are easy to resolve in a telescope. The balloon bursts when it gets too high and results in a cloud of sparkling fragments.

    It's a good point, google sez sunset was about `18:30` so a high object might be sunlit even at `18:38`

    Wow. It sounds great, and I'd like to see one. Do you know if there's an online resource to know where and when they are launched?

    Thank you @JohnHoltz your explanation is the best. I clearly saw a weather balloon and its instrument pack was orbiting around it. Still, it was the most beautiful thing I have seen with my telescope! The explosion was simply mesmerising and I was lucky to be looking in the eyepiece the second it exploded.

    Once again the answer to 'What was this amazing thing I saw in the sky?' is 'a weather balloon' :D

    A Supernova weather balloon explosion. That's even better than a supernova itself!

  • The Hubble telescope has a resolution of about 1/20 of an arcsecond, or 1/25920000 of a circle. A Julian year has 31557600 seconds. This means for something a light year away, it would take 1.2175 seconds for an object to move far enough for its motion to be resolved by the Hubble telescope, even if it were traveling at the speed of light. (And by that, I mean it would take 1.2175 seconds for it to move one pixel.)

    A near-Earth supernova is an explosion resulting from the death of a star that occurs close enough to the Earth (roughly less than 10 to 300 parsecs (30 to 1000 light-years) away[2]) to have noticeable effects on Earth's biosphere.

    Because Type Ia supernovae arise from dim, common white dwarf stars, it is likely that a supernova that could affect the Earth will occur unpredictably and take place in a star system that is not well studied. The closest known candidate is IK Pegasi.


    IK Pegasi is 150 LY away. So even if IK Pegasi were to go supernova (which is unlikely), we would need more than 3 minutes to resolve any motion with Hubble. With an amateur telescope, much more time would be needed. The fact that you were able to see the object changing in real time shows that it was, astronomically speaking, very near by.

  • I was involved in a volunteer project which searched for new supernovas and was one person of several who identified SN 2016 dln as a new supernova.

    Identifying the possible supernovas was quite delicate and required a lot of hours and practice, and so I suspect (also taking into account your description) that what you saw was likely not a supernova and was probably a man-made object.

  • Many have. Unfortunately, you probably haven't. I have to check my dates, yet, I believe the last seen, was in '80-ish. An apparent supernova would be the most distinguished sight in the sky. Ancient Chinese spoke of it (Crab nebula), and recorded their findings. If there was one, NASA couldn't hide it. You would know.

  • Have you considered the possibility that you might have been looking at Jupiter and its brightest moon(s)?

    At 18:20 local time, Jupiter would be almost directly overhead, and certainly bright enough to see not long after the Sun has set; in fading twilight, any non-obscured Galilean moons would also be easily visible in a telescope. [I've recently been observing the 4 in my ordinary field binoculars, and I'm in a large city of 4 million with substantial light pollution, though a lot less polluted just now due to being in COVID lockdown.]

    This doesn't explain your description "it suddenly exploded like fireworks and tiny particles shining very brightly started to swirl in waves and dimmed quickly", but there's no way that could describe any object beyond Earth, given the rapidity of the changes you describe. It's much more likely you saw something within Earth's atmosphere. You may have been amazingly lucky enough to have been looking through your telescope at the very point where a small meteor has entered the atmosphere almost "head-on" towards you and disintegrated into a shower of "sparks" lasting a few seconds at most.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM