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Bright Nova Appears in Delphinus

By Steve Owens @Darkskyman on twitter. See the original article here

Last night a bright nova was discovered in the constellation of Delphinus. It’s bright by nova standards: you normally need telescopes to see novae but this can can be seen with the naked eye – just! – and is easily spottable through binoculars. At the time of writing it has been observed at magnitude 6.3 by Koichi Itagaki, of Yamagata, Japan, and at magnitude 6.0 by Patrick Schmeer, of Bischmisheim, Germany. This means that under dark skies, free from light pollution, with good seeing conditions and good eyesight, it’s within the limit of human eyesight. If you’re in a city though, or if your eyesight isn’t perfect, you’ll need binoculars.

Here are some finder charts for the nova

produced using the excellent (free!) Stellarium package.

Nova Delphini 2013

Nova Delphini 2013 marked with a +

Your first task will be to locate the small constellation of Delphinus. Luckily, that’s really easy at the moment. It’s high in the south around midnight (SE in the evening), and right next to the prominent stars of the Summer Triangle. The brightest stars in Delphinus make up a tiny diamond shape in the sky. Got it? OK, here’s where it gets a little trickier.

Nova Delphini 2013

Three steps to Nova Delphini 2013 marked with a +

Step 1:Find the diamond shape of Delphinus, shown in the lower left portion of this star chart, with the bright stars of the diamond ?, ?, ?, and ? labelled (along with ? nearby).

Step 2: Draw a line from the lower left star of the diamond, ?, past the upper right star, ?, but missing it slightly to the “left” of ?. Continue for approx. five times the ?-? distance. Here you’ll find another four stars in a diamond of almost exactly the same shape and orientation as (albeit slightly smaller than) the bright diamond of Delphinus. These stars are all really faint. Their magnitudes are marked on the chart above, and they’re all at the very limit of naked eye visibility. Use binoculars if you can’t see them directly.

Step 3: Continue your line onwards, through the lower left star of this fainter diamond to the upper right star, and now take an approximately 45° turn to the “right”, past a very faint star (magnitude 7.85) to the new nova!

(The bright star in the top left of this star chart is 29 Vul, magnitude 4.8)

Nova means “new”, a term coined in 1572 by astronomer Tycho Brahe after he discovered a “new star” in the constellation of Cassiopeia. But these stars aren’t new at all. In fact they’re brightness is a result of a giant explosion on the surface of a dead white dwarf star.

White dwarf stars form when small stars die and collapse down into a much smaller volume. If there’s another star nearby then the gravity of the white dwarf star can draw some hydrogen gas from the surface of its neighbour onto its own surface. This gas builds up until there is a sufficient quantity of it that it undergoes runaway nuclear fusion, igniting, flaring off, and temporarily brightening the otherwise very faint white dwarf.

No one’s quite sure how this new nova will develop. It might brighten further, or it might begin to dim over the course of days or weeks. All the more reason to get out an find it as soon as you have clear skies. Happy nova hunting!

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