In this captivating image captured by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, the spiral galaxy NGC 941 takes center stage, situated approximately 55 million light-years from Earth. The data for this image was collected by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS). While NGC 941 is a visually stunning component of this celestial snapshot, the primary impetus for gathering the data lies in an astronomical occurrence that unfolded years earlier – the supernova SN 2005ad.
SN 2005ad, a hydrogen-rich supernova, or type II supernova, played a pivotal role in a study aimed at enhancing our understanding of the environments conducive to specific types of supernovae. The discovery of this faded supernova is credited to the keen eye of amateur astronomer Kōichi Itagaki, who has remarkably identified over 170 supernovae.
The intriguing question arises: How could an amateur astronomer detect a supernova event before professionals with access to advanced telescopes like Hubble? The answer lies in a combination of skill, facilities, and luck. Supernova explosions unfold rapidly, appearing suddenly and fluctuating in brightness over days or weeks. While data from telescopes like Hubble might take extensive periods to process, amateur astronomers actively dedicate more time to observing the skies, equipped with impressive telescope systems, computers, and software.
Given their prolific identification of supernovae, amateurs like Itagaki contribute to a reporting system called the Transient Name Server, enabling professional astronomers to swiftly follow up on discoveries. This prompt response is crucial, as time is of the essence in studying supernovae events. Following Itagaki’s report of SN 2005ab, professional astronomers conducted spectroscopic studies, confirming it as a type II supernova.This confirmation paved the way for Hubble to scrutinize its location, emphasizing the collaborative synergy between amateur and professional astronomers in advancing our comprehension of these cosmic phenomena.