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Nova 2024: How to see the upcoming once-in-a-lifetime explosion 

By Ansharah Shakil, June 7 2024—

Quickly approaching is the astronomical event of the season: a rare nova explosion which will be visible to the naked eye for just over a week at a point between now and September 2024.

The explosion will occur as a result of T Coronae Borealis, also referred to as the Blaze Star or T CrB, a white dwarf star which survives its recurrent nova explosions. White dwarf stars are the remnants of a dead star. T CrB is one of only a few recurrent novas, special because it reliably explodes once around every 80 years and does so much faster than other novas. 

It belongs to the Corona Borealis binary system, located 3000 light-years from Earth, meaning it orbits around the other star in the system, a red giant. The red giant ejects its outer layers on the surface of the white dwarf, and when the white dwarf eventually reaches its limit, the atmosphere heats up and a thermonuclear reaction starts burning. The last time this explosion occurred was in 1946. 

It’s certain the explosion will happen again soon, but unlike other astronomical events or the recent solar eclipse, it won’t be a one-day event. At its peak, it will be visible for several days without any aids. So while we don’t know when it will occur, when it does, even if you miss the first day, you’ll have a chance to see it the next day. It is at its brightest the first day, however, so to see it then, scientists will have to move fast before it starts fading. 

This is partly why it’s important to be aware of the nova explosion before it arrives. One famous astronomer, Leslie Peltier, watched and waited eagerly for T CrB to erupt for around 25 years. In February 1946, his alarm was set for 2:30 a.m. to check on it, but rather than get up, in one moment of weakness, he chose to remain in bed. And of course, T CrB exploded that very day. 

According to NASA, the visibility of the star system will be magnitude +2 during the event. Usually, it’s magnitude +10. This jump in brightness means T CrB will be on the same level as the North Star, Polaris. It will appear close to the constellation Corona Borealis, or the Northern Crown, a semicircular arc which in itself is near Bootes and Hercules. 

To see it, you can look first to find Ursa Major, following it until you see the bright star Arcturus near Bootes, and then to the left at Corona Borealis. Corona Borealis’s brightest star, of seven, is Alphecca, and when T CrB erupts, it will be nearly as bright as Alphecca. 

Familiarizing yourself with the constellation as it is right now is the best way to catch the new star: though it’s always existed, it will finally become visible to us during the nova explosion. 

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