SEARCHING FOR EXPLOSIONS
Before a nova or supernova can be studied, of course, it must be found. Searches should be methodical and thorough. If you are sweeping an area of sky for novae, say, the sweeps must overlap so that no area is missed. Dark, clear skies are especially important.
Nova hunters can use an instrument as basic as a pair of 7 x 50 binoculars. Some 20 to 25 novae are discovered each year in our galaxy, most with binoculars or a wide-field telescope eyepiece. Nearly all novae occur in a 20 degree strip centered on the galactic equator, which runs along the band of the Milky Way, so this is the best place to search. The Magellanic Clouds have also yielded a few nova discoveries, but novae in other galaxies are generally too faint to see.
Star charts showing all stars down to at least magnitude 8 are a must. Over time, you will come to know the star patterns within your chosen viewing field. If you see a star that "should not be there," it may be a nova, although you might be looking at a known asteroid or variable star at its peak. Check against a good star catalog or sky-charting program. At their maxima, novae look distinctly reddish or yellow.
Binoculars are of little use if your goal is to find supernovae. A number of supernovae can be seen each year in other galaxies, but since they usually peak below magnitude 14, you will need at least an 8 inch (200 mm) telescope.
To conduct a simple search, you survey the sky, galaxy by galaxy, looking for "new" stars with the help of photographs and charts. A faint star in or near a galaxy that does not appear on the chart or photograph could be a supernova. Accurate charts showing the magnitudes of the field stars in and around the galaxy can be obtained from the AAVSO 01-The Supernova Search Charts and Handbook.
If you think you have seen a nova or supernova, note its position and estimate its magnitude. Always double-check your observation, and have it confirmed by another competent observer, an observing organization, or an observatory. Give them the date and time of your observation, the instrument used, the position and brightness of the object, and the observing conditions. If your observation is confirmed, you can report it to the International Astronomical Union's Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams in Massachusetts.