Written by Kelly Herbst, Astronomy Curator for the Virginia Living Museum. Updated every two weeks, more or less.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

COSMIC STRINGS ALERT: Nova Delphini 2013

Woohoo!  We got us a nova!

A nova is a small, usually white dwarf star which brightens significantly because a companion star dumps material onto it.  When this new material becomes hot and dense enough - WHAM!  Nuclear fusion suddenly begins again, making the once-dead little star come to life and produce a whole heck of a lot of energy all at once.  A white dwarf can go nova repeatedly - as often as the supply of fuel is replenished to sufficient levels by its companion.

Nova Delphini 2013.  Image courtesy Wikipedia.

That appears to have a happened to a star in the constellation Delphinus the Dolphin.  The once-invisible star has brightened dramatically over the last few days - and it is now at just about the limit of vision for the average skies in our area.  If the sky around where you are is relatively dark and uncluttered at night, you should be able to pick out a faint "new" star in Delphinus.

"New" is in fact the Latin translation of nova.  Early astronomers thought that what they were seeing was a new star bursting into life.  Today we know this is not the case, but the name persists.  And in one sense, it is a "new" star, since normally this little white dwarf cannot be seen with the human eye at all.

This uptick in brightness may only last for a few days, and fortunately for us, the nova is well-placed in our evening skies for viewing.  Don't miss your chance to see this beautiful object!  Once the sky is nice and dark, head outside to check out the area near the Summer Triangle for the nova.  The chart below will help you locate it.  Bring out a pair of binoculars or a telescope to help you, as even at this new brightness, the nova may be just on the edge of your vision.

A guide to finding Nova Delphini 2013.  Image from Universe Today, created in Stellarium.

Best of luck!  If you see it, leave me a message in the comments!
Carpe noctem!

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