Skies Over West Seattle, special edition: New star to look for

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Something new has turned up since Alice’s August edition of “Skies Over West Seattle!)

(Image © 2013 Alice & Jason Enevoldsen)

By Alice Enevoldsen
Special to West Seattle Blog

There is a new star this week in the tiny constellation Delphinus. It should be visible from West Seattle again tonight, but it has already begun to dim down, so by Monday you’ll likely need a pair of binoculars or a telescope to see it.

Before I explain more details, I’d like to set up your expectations. This may be the dimmest star you have ever tried to find. It won’t be the dimmest star you’ve ever seen, but I can’t think of another time that those of you who aren’t amateur astronomers will have looked for something this dim.

Above is an image I took the day it was found, that works decently well as a map of where you ought to look. You can see more images on my blog.

Finding the Nova

If you’re ready to run outside and look as soon as it gets dark tonight, first check out Universe Today or the AAVSO and read their finding charts. Then grab some binoculars if you have them. You might not need them, but they would help especially if you have any trouble at all with your eyesight.

The main barrier to seeing this object yourself is going to be knowing exactly which star is the nova, and learning to read increasingly-zoomed-in star-finder charts.

The nova is between the constellations of Delphinus and Saggita, which are two of the dimmest and smallest constellations in the sky. Luckily, they’re overlapping with the Summer Triangle – a pattern of three of the brightest stars you can see. You’ll find the Summer Triangle in the middle of the night tonight by looking straight up.

Oddly, despite how dim it is, Delphinus is an easy-to-identify constellation. It’s a cute little fish-shape in a dark part of the sky, there isn’t much near it, which helps make it identifiable.

The clouds are splotchy tonight, which means we’ll have passing chances to find the nova. Also, the Moon is pretty bright and getting brighter, so get yourself the darkest possible place to stand, and move until a tree or building blocks the Moon.

When you’re out stargazing in the dark, be sure to remain aware of your surroundings and choose safe places from which to watch. I was down in Florida this week when I went out to look for the nova at first, and I had no idea what I needed to do to be aware of the local wildlife or even what wildlife I should be careful of! I’m glad to be home where I can listen for cats, raccoons, coyotes, and the occasional opossum. They’re all smaller than me and not venomous!

What is it?

It’s been confirmed as a nova. There are several types of novae and supernovae, but a common one being discussed in relation to this event is when you have two stars orbiting each other, and a clump of gas from the larger star falls onto the smaller star. This causes a brief explosion and brightening of the smaller star, and then things settle back down.

Good luck, and have fun seeing the constellations and the Moon even if you don’t manage to spot the nova!

Alice Enevoldsen’s “Skies Over West Seattle” WSB contributions are all archived here, newest to oldest.

3 Replies to "Skies Over West Seattle, special edition: New star to look for"

  • Db August 18, 2013 (3:13 pm)

    Great article, Alice!

    Do you have any suggestions on good astronomical binoculars? I’ve heard that a pair that is 10 x 50 is good for entry level viewing, but I’m sure quality can vary greatly by brand. Do you have a couple of brands/models that you feel are good for those just getting started? Thanks!

  • Alice August 19, 2013 (12:09 pm)

    Yes Db,
    10x50s should be fine, anything will work for your first pair. I like the Meade Travelview 7x50s, mostly because we had a set donated, and they’re perfectly functional.
    My general advice on buying your first set of binoculars: buy from a company you’ve heard of, and their quality will be fine. Don’t break the bank, use these binocs to get to know the sky and what you want more of. Also, you’ll learn what you like and what frustrates you, so that when you are ready for your next pair, or for a telescope, you can shop for that.
    My general advice, including a section on binoculars:
    Good hunting!

  • Db August 19, 2013 (6:20 pm)

    Thanks Alice! Off to do some shopping… :-)

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