Most of the emission at infrared wavelengths originates from interstellar dust. This interstellar dust is found primarily within the galaxy's spiral arms, and it has been shown to be associated with star formation regions. The general explanation is that the hot, short-lived blue stars that are found within star formation regions are very effective at heating the dust and thus enhancing the infrared dust emission from these regions.
Only one supernova has been detected in Messier 81. The supernova, named SN 1993J, was discovered on 28 March 1993 by F. García in Spain. At the time, it was the second brightest supernova observed in the 20th century. The spectral characteristics of the supernova changed over time. Initially, it looked more like a type II supernova (a supernova formed by the explosion of a giant star) with strong hydrogenspectral line emission, but later the hydrogen lines faded and strong helium spectral lines appeared, making the supernova look more like a type Ib. Moreover, the variations in SN 1993J's luminosity over time were not like the variations observed in other type II supernova but did resemble the variations observed in type Ib supernovae. Hence, the supernova has been classified as a type IIb, a transitory class between type II and type Ib. The scientific results from this supernova suggested that type Ib and Ic supernovae were actually formed through the explosions of giant stars through processes similar to those taking place in type II supernovae. The supernova was also used to estimate a distance of 8.5 ± 1.3 Mly (2.6 ± 0.4 Mpc) to Messier 81. As a local galaxy, the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams (CBAT) tracks novae in M81 along with M31 and M33.
M81 (left) and M82 (right). M82 is one of two galaxies strongly influenced gravitationally by M81. The other, NGC 3077, is located off the top edge of this image.
Messier 81 is located approximately 10° northwest of Alpha Ursae Majoris along with several other galaxies in the Messier 81 Group. Messier 81 and Messier 82 can both be viewed easily using binoculars and small telescopes. The two objects are generally not observable to the unaided eye, although highly experienced amateur astronomers may be able to see Messier 81 under exceptional observing conditions with a very dark sky. Telescopes with apertures of 8 inches (20 cm) or larger are needed to distinguish structures in the galaxy. Its far northern declination makes it generally visible for observers in the northern hemisphere. It is not visible to most observers in the southern hemisphere, except those in a narrow latitude range immediately south of the equator.
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