Unprecedented Number of Citizen Scientists Enthralled by Exceptionally Proximate Supernova
“It is really incredible what this citizen science network can do. This was the closest supernova of the last decade, and observers took full advantage of the special occasion.”
The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI) achieved a groundbreaking milestone with the closest celestial detonation to Earth in the past decade. Identified as (SN) 2023ixf, this supernova was initially detected by Koichi Itagaki, an amateur astronomer from Japan, on May 19, 2023. Promptly after its emergence, the SETI and Unistellar’s Cosmic Cataclysms program swiftly engaged a multitude of amateur astronomers, resulting in an extraordinary surge of participants. This diverse assembly, including citizen scientists, collaborated in amassing data regarding a supernova occurrence within the Pinwheel Galaxy, a spiral galaxy positioned approximately 21 million light-years away from our planet. By scrutinizing this data, scientists aimed to enhance their comprehension of Type II supernovas, a class of cosmic explosions transpiring when colossal stars exhaust their nuclear fusion fuel, rendering them defenseless against gravitational collapse.
“Incredible achievements are within reach thanks to the capabilities of this citizen science network,” remarked Lauren Sgro, a researcher at the SETI Institute, expressing admiration. “This supernova, being the closest in the last ten years, presented an exceptional opportunity that observers promptly seized. They swiftly focused their attention on the target and persisted in their observations, enabling us to witness the program’s full potential.”
The endeavor involved 123 devoted amateur astronomers who conducted 252 observations using 115 telescopes, meticulously monitoring the supernova’s evolving luminosity and its subsequent gradual decline. Through this diligent process, the SETI scientists were able to construct a comprehensive profile of the supernova, commonly referred to by astronomers as a “light curve,” representing the changes in its brightness over time.
The saga of (SN) 2023ixf is far from over. The supernova is projected to remain visible until at least August 2023, and throughout this duration, the amateur astronomers participating in the Cosmic Cataclysms program will persistently monitor its progression.
Leveraging the power of amateur astronomers
The collaborative initiative known as the Cosmic Cataclysms science program is a joint effort between the SETI Institute and Unistellar, generously supported by the Richard Lounsbery Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. This program empowers citizen scientist astronomers to investigate and gather data pertaining to cataclysmic events and rapidly transforming “transient” phenomena, including supernovas and gamma-ray bursts.
Participating individuals receive real-time notifications whenever transient events are detected, facilitating the prompt launch of observing campaigns, as demonstrated by the recent endeavor surrounding (SN) 2023ixf. By meticulously tracking the intensification and subsequent dissipation of cataclysmic occurrences, volunteers assist scientists in gathering crucial insights regarding the celestial entities driving these forceful and tumultuous events. Additionally, they contribute to our understanding of the impact of these phenomena on interstellar matter, encompassing gases and dust.
Next year, the program is set to receive a significant boost with the commencement of operations at the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile. This development will enable the Unistellar network of citizen astronomers to collaborate with other teams of astronomers and professional scientists, fostering a broader collective effort to investigate transient events.
The team’s research was published in the journal The Research Notes of the AAS.
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