Astrophoto: Nova Centauri 2013 Turns Pink

by Nancy Atkinson on December 27, 2013

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This image taken on Dec. 28, 2013 from New Zealand shows Nova Centauri 2013, a bright naked eye nova in the Southern constellation of Centaurus. The nova appears pink because of emissions from ionised hydrogen. Credit and copyright: Rolf Wahl Olsen.

This image taken on Dec. 28, 2013 from New Zealand shows Nova Centauri 2013, a bright naked eye nova in the Southern constellation of Centaurus. The nova appears pink because of emissions from ionised hydrogen. Credit and copyright: Rolf Wahl Olsen.

A recent naked-eye visible nova that erupted the first week in December 2013 is still showing its stuff, and this new “hot off the press” image from Rolf Wahl Olsen in New Zealand reveals its unusual color. “I managed to grab a close-up of Nova Centauri 2013 with my new 12.5″ f/4 scope,” Rolf said via email to Universe Today. “Curiously, I have only so far seen wide field images of this nova, and none that actually show it’s very unusual strong pink colour.”

Nova Centauri 2013 (in the Southern constellation of Centaurus) was discovered by John Seach from Australia on December 2, 2013, and it was visible at about magnitude 5.5. It subsequently brightened to reach a peak at magnitude 3.3.

Rolf’s image was taken today (it’s already Dec. 28, 2013 in New Zealand!) when the nova had faded to around magnitude 4.5. You can see a larger version here on Flickr or click the image above for a larger version on Rolf’s website.

Why is it pink?

“The nova appears pink because we are really viewing the light from an expanding shell of ionized hydrogen which emits strongly in both the red and blue part of the optical spectrum,” Rolf explained. “These emissions give the nova its strong pinkish colour, similar to emission nebulae which are also predominantly pink/magenta in hue.”

A nova is the result of a thermonuclear explosion on the surface of a white dwarf star in a tight binary system. The white dwarf accretes matter from its nearby companion and eventually the pressure from nuclear fusion blows off the accreted layers from the surface of the white dwarf. Contrary to a supernova where the star itself is blown apart and ceases to exist, a nova does not result in the destruction of the host star. The white dwarf may continue to accrete matter from its companion and the process may repeat itself sometime in the future.

Image details:
Date: 28th Dec 2013
Exposure: LRGB: 17:7:6:6 mins, total 36 mins @ -25C
Telescope: 12.5″ f/4 Serrurier Truss Newtonian
Camera: QSI 683wsg with Lodestar guider
Filters: Astrodon LRGB E-Series Gen 2
Taken from Auckland, New Zealand

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Aqua4U December 27, 2013 at 12:52 PM

Dang it! I want a nova or super nova too! (Northern Hemisphere) Any day now, right? Sheesh….

phelanka7 December 27, 2013 at 5:11 PM

Betelgeuse should give us Northerners a show that will be the envy of all “bottom dwelling” Earthlings. Hopefully in our lifetimes, eh?

Other_events December 27, 2013 at 6:11 PM

Dear phelanka7, strangely enough, we have Orion, and consequently Betelgeuse, high in our southern skies all night at this time of the year, rising before dusk at about 7pm and setting after dawn at about 6.30am. And I can confirm an unaided visible pinkish Nova Centauri 2013 on 28 December. Envy? I think not…

Allison Kirkpatrick January 1, 2014 at 6:43 PM

At 7 degrees above the celestial equator Betelgeuse is visible from every latitude on Earth except parts of Antarctica.

Allison Kirkpatrick January 1, 2014 at 6:42 PM

We had a bright northern hemisphere nova a few months ago – Nova Delphini 2013 reached about 4th magnitude, so it was just a little fainter than Nova Centauri 2013. We are “overdue” for a really bright nova or supernova, however.

Aqua4U January 1, 2014 at 8:06 PM

I am at 38*31′N and have seen Omega Centauri several times from my mountaintop star gazing site. It is very low, near the horizon, and takes really good seeing conditions to view. But this nova is even further south, so no way… Dang! I missed Nova Delphini (Bad seeing) but have high hopes that one day soon…. KABANG! Supernova time! Lets hope that WHEN one pops off, it will be situated where we can ALL see it!

I had high hopes that Comet ISON would be a spectacular sight and generate some new star gazers, but it was not to be… Hopefully, Comet 2013 A1 (Siding Spring) will do the deed when it makes a close pass by Mars next year?

Sarah O'Callaghan December 27, 2013 at 4:23 PM

I saw a bright pink light in the sky in the U.K yesterday…would it of possibly been this??

Navneeth December 28, 2013 at 3:02 AM

Sarah, you’re too far up north to have seen this nova.

Fabio Ribeiro December 28, 2013 at 11:05 AM

Hi there,

This Nova can be easily seen in the southern hemisphere night. I took a picture from my rooftop, located at Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro. For those who are in the southern hemisphere, go outside and look in the direction of the crux constellation. From there is not difficult to find alpha and beta centauri. Nova centauri 2013 is very close to beta centauri, as can be seen in the photo attached to this message. Enjoy!

SG December 28, 2013 at 9:06 PM

I wonder what it would look like from an exoplanet of Alpha Centauri

Allison Kirkpatrick January 1, 2014 at 6:40 PM

Probably about the same as it looks to us, since the nova is about 10,000 light years away, and Alpha Centauri is only 4.3 light years from us.

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