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The Question

(Submitted October 11, 2007)

Can a supernova be seen with the naked eye? What are the odds of seeing a supernova with the naked eye?

The Answer

Several supernovae throughout history have been seen with the naked eye. However no naked eye supernovae have been seen since 1987 (and then only in the southern hemisphere, and the last one before that was about 400 years ago). You can see the most recent listing at:

http://cfa-www.harvard.edu/iau/lists/RecentSupernovae.html

Under the darkest conditions we can't really see anything dimmer than about magnitude 6.5 with the naked eye, but here are details of some of the brighter (< Mag 17) ones that you may be able to see with a telescope:

http://www.rochesterastronomy.org/supernova.html

Hope this helps,
Mike and Georgia
For "Ask an Astrophysicist"

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