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.
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.
left of the top page is a quick reference column of all active
supernovas brighter than magnitude 17.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
Update February 2009
Supernova and asteroid discoverer Michael Schwartz
(Tenagra Observatories) has named asteroid 70401 Davidbishop.
Latest Supernovae website address: http://www.rochesterastronomy.org/snimages/index.htm