Locations of Supernovae

Figure 1: A Type Ia Supernova in the nearby Pinwheel Galaxy, M101
Credit: B.J. Fulton (Las Cumbres Observatory)

Our studies of supernovae help to reinforce and improve our understanding of how stars work. Quite often, we see supernovae from massive stars in the arms of spiral galaxies. This makes sense as we believe these spiral arms are the best places to find young and massive stars. These are thought to be the progenitors of the Type Ib, Ic and II supernovae. Another good hunting ground for supernovae might be those galaxies that have undergone or are still undergoing collisions with other nearby galaxies. These are areas we think of as undergoing recent (relatively!) star formation. Examples of this might include the nearby 'satellite' galaxies known as the Magellanic Clouds

Type Ia supernovae are perhaps a little more elusive. Studies suggest that these can be found in places where there are older generations of stars. After all, it takes a long time (perhaps several billion years) for a star to become a white dwarf. However, it is clearly possible that they might also be found in a galaxy's spiral arms (see Figure 1).

A word of warning though ... even if you find a suitable candidate galaxy (or even a star like Betelgeuse), don't get your hopes up that you might see a supernova soon. Remember that on average, we might expect one supernova per galaxy per century! Perhaps this is why surveys are so useful in this field as they repeatedly scan huge areas of the night sky over short timescales.

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