Nova Search: Discover flaring novae in nearby galaxies!

M31 Nova Search

Astronomers are currently debating how frequently novae occur in different types of galaxies. Novae are the explosions that occur on the surfaces of white dwarf stars in binary systems. A nova occurs when gas is pulled onto the white dwarf from its companion star, creating an explosion that makes the binary a million times brighter than normal. A nova will last for a few months to a few years before fading away. The frequency of novae in a galaxy depends on a variety of things, including the number of binaries, the mass of the pre-nova stars, and the population’s formation history.

In this project, you will search for novae in the nearby Andromeda Galaxy by “blinking” images taken over the span of a decade. You will be analyzing data obtained from the WIYN 0.9 meter telescope on Kitt Peak. You will be measuring apparent magnitudes of suspected novae over time to determine their classification and rate of decay. With a little bit of luck you and your students may be the first to discover a new nova!

The following links provide access to the background material and data needed for this project.

  1. Cosmic Easter Eggs [1.74 MB PDF]: documents the content background for this project and the method used to blink the frames in search of novae.
  2. The software necessary for handling the data include the program ImageJ which is available as a free download from the ImageJ web site. To get the program itself, click on “Downloads,” and choose the version of ImageJ appropriate for your computer. Unzip and install on your computer.
  3. Download and unzip the file, [90 KB]. Place the resultant "Nova" folder into the ImageJ "plugins" folder (found in the "ImageJ" folder).
  4. README file [46 KB PDF] contains the dates of the epoch observations.
  5. The entire data set for M31 is quite large and can be overwhelming, so we suggest starting with one of the central fields (6, 7, 10 and 11) and then move on to the rest if you and your students want to go further. Download zipped archives of each field below.
  6. A finder chart [8.69 MB PDF] for all the regions is also available.

M31 Data

109 epochs for each field have been archived, 10 epochs at a time, in a zipped file for download below. Epochs 101-109 are archived as individual epochs. Each epoch contins all 16 fields.

We have also archived all 109 epochs by field. Each zipped file below contains all 109 epochs for the named field.

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The Astronomy RBSE program is administered by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory with funds from the National Science Foundation.