Supernova 2011fe was detected in late August 2011 in the nearby galaxy M101, and has put on a beautiful show for northern skywatchers since. SN 2011fe is a type-Ia supernova, which originate from accreting white dwarfs in binary star systems. When the white dwarf reaches a critical mass of about 1.4 times the mass of our Sun, it explodes. The peak brightness and light curve evolution of type-Ia supernovae are well understood and can be used as standard candles to measure distances in the universe. SN 2011fe is special because it's so close by and bright -- reached 10th magnitude in visual light, making it a treat for both casual skywatchers and serious researchers alike for the past several months.
The supernova is still bright enough to be seen in modest-sized amateur telescopes, but it's poorly placed in the sky for evening observers; you'll get your best views of it in the pre-dawn hours for the next several months. SN 2011fe is now the best-observed supernova in the AAVSO International Database with over 6,800 observations submitted to date. We hope to receive many more observations over the coming months!
Prepared By: Matthew Templeton