Discover David Bishop’s Latest Supernovae Website

     A supernova has just been discovered in a well-known galaxy, and right away there are questions: An amateur wonders if his Dobsonian telescope is large enough to see the supernova visually. How bright is this new stellar firecracker? Are there finder charts? Professional astronomers and more advanced amateurs want to know: is there a recent, pre-discovery image of the host galaxy? Has the supernova's spectrum been taken? A visit to David Bishop’s Latest Supernovae web page will answer these questions, and will also provide a library of information about other bright supernovas discovered since January, 1996.

How Bishop’s web page evolved
     By the early 1990s several dedicated amateur astronomers were engaged in active supernova search programs. Following in the footsteps of the legendary discoverer Robert Evans, some of these amateurs searched visually. Others used digital CCD cameras to look deeper into space. Around this time, Mirko Villi, an Italian astronomer, started the International Supernovae Network. The ISN was a group of amateurs who, by using the internet, shared discovery data and helped each other with the supernova confirmation process. This concept was especially helpful when a discoverer’s follow-up observations were not possible because of bad weather. The ISN also had an internet web page that displayed images of new discoveries. It included the supernova’s name and type, discoverer’s name, discovery date, and host galaxy.

     In 1993, Spanish amateur Francisco Garcia Diaz found a very bright and peculiar supernova in M81 – named SN1993J. David Bishop, at the time a young astronomer from Westmoreland, New York, heard about the discovery. Dave is not a supernova hunter, but does have an affinity for exploding stars and a background that includes working with computers and software. He checked the ISN page and other sites, looking for details about this new discovery. He found bits and pieces of information about SN1993J at many different web locations. Then in 1996 another unusual supernova in NGC5584 caught Dave’s attention. Again, the details were scattered. Driven by a desire to have all supernovae discovery information consolidated and accessible from one internet site, he created the Bright Supernovae web page. His new site expanded upon data already displayed on the ISN web page, which later became inactive. It also featured discoveries from professional search programs. At first the Bright Supernovae site listed all bright supernova discoveries (mag.18 or brighter) found only in NGC and IC galaxies. By 1998, the page included bright discoveries in galaxies from all catalogs. He also changed the site name to the Latest Supernovae web page.

What information is displayed?
     If it’s your first cyber-trip to the Latest Supernovae website, you’ll notice a few paragraphs at the top of the page laced with general supernova facts and discovery statistics – a little supernova history, how many discoveries so far this year, how many last year, the brightest supernova, etc.. After reading a couple of sentences you definitely get the feeling that this website creator is committed to the topic.

     To the left of the top page is a quick reference column of all active supernovas brighter than magnitude 17.

     The meat of the Latest Supernovae website consists of images of supernovas and associated information listings in the order of discovery – the most recent being at the top. Each thumbnail image is usually the actual discovery image (inverted form) sent in by the amateur or professional discoverer(s).
To the right of the thumbnail, the data block includes pertinent material such as the supernova’s name and official announcement link (to the Central Bureau of Astronomical Telegrams). Also listed is the date of discovery, discoverer, host galaxy, exact position, type, and magnitude of the find. In addition, there are links to a galaxy data base, finder charts, photometry reference frames, light curves, spectra, and additional CBAT notices.

     Appended to the data blocks are links to after-discovery images submitted by amateurs and professionals. Dave encourages follow-up images and photometric measurements on active supernovas, so that he can update their changing magnitudes.

     Posted on another page of the site are extragalactic novae found in neighboring galaxies M31, M33, and M81. The images and data are archived back to 1998.

     If you are looking for information about a recent or even not-so-recent exploding star, the Latest Supernovae web site is your one-stop destination.


Wide range of users
     Anyone fascinated by astronomy will enjoy browsing the Latest Supernovae web page. Seeing a new “guest star” in a beautiful spiral galaxy can evoke a sense of wonderment and intrigue.

     Supernovas come and go quickly. Usually they’re discovered in very distant galaxies, and fade in just a couple of months. When looking for a possible “target” for study, university students and their professors check with Dave’s site for the best possible subject – a supernova that is new and bright and in a convenient section of the sky for CCD imaging.

     In the course of their search programs, amateur supernova sleuths often come across “suspects” that have already been discovered. Prompt determination can be made by using Dave’s “site search” feature. When the parent galaxy is entered into the search window, the utility displays all supernova information linked to this particular galaxy.

     “I find Dave’s site to be excellent,” states Tom Boles, a UK amateur with more than 100 discoveries. “I often use it to see what a previous discovery looks like in case there is a second candidate in the same galaxy. It saves doing astrometry.”

     Robert Evans, the amateur searcher who holds the record for the most visual finds (41 to date), comments, “I use David Bishop’s website a good deal….When starting a period of observing, I check to see if there is a supernova that I might come across, but which I did not already know about.”

     Quick access to reliable supernova data is essential for all astronomers who examine exploding stars – including the professionals. “David Bishop’s web site is incredibly useful,” remarks Alex Filippenko, Principle Investigator with the Lick Observatory Supernova Search Program (LOSS). LOSS operates the Katzman Automatic Imaging Telescope – the world’s most successful nearby supernova search engine. Filippenko adds, “My team consults Dave’s website every time we want to get spectra of nearby supernovae with the Lick 3 meter and Keck 10 meter telescopes. The finder chart for each supernova is at our fingertips, and there is information (with appropriate links) on its discovery, host galaxy, etc…. Having access to his site saves us a large amount of time.”

     “David’s website is an invaluable help to the supernova community, professional and amateur alike,” notes Stephane Blondin, a Center for Astrophysics Scientist who manages the spectroscopic follow-up campaign of nearby supernovae with the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory 1.5 meter telescope. “Moreover, the website constitutes an impressive database of bright supernovae, which is a fundamental aid in my daily professional activities.”

     Normally the site receives about 5000 "visits" each day. That daily number can increase to around 50,000 when an unusually bright discovery is made.

Site maintenance and costs
     How difficult is it to keep this complex, dynamic website up-to-date? “Not hard at all,” says Dave, a chip designer and engineer for Kodak who now lives in Hilton, New York. Software programs developed by him do most of the revision work. “I just plug in the changes on my computer. It’s pretty straightforward.” A family man and father of two, Dave spends a little more than an hour each evening updating his website – “usually after the kids go to bed.” A time-critical change can be made anytime, and almost anywhere, thanks to wire-less technology. “I once updated the site during a coffee break while at a business meeting in California,” Dave quips.

     I wondered about the major costs incurred in operating such a website – a site that contains 2 gigabytes of data. The web host server gives Dave free hosting with unlimited bandwidth. His subscription fees to receive the Central Bureau (CBAT) discovery announcements (via internet) are also taken care of by an appreciative amateur astronomer. Half jokingly, I asked Dave what he would accept as payment for providing us supernova hunters such dedicated service for more than a decade. “When you’re out there searching – if you happen to find an undiscovered asteroid – you can name it Bishop,” was his reply.

 Doug Rich
 January 2008

 Update  February 2009

 Supernova and asteroid discoverer Michael Schwartz
 (Tenagra Observatories) has named asteroid 70401 Davidbishop.
 Congratulations Dave! 

 Latest Supernovae website address: