A 10-year-old girl has become the youngest person to discover a supernova, or exploding star. Kathryn Gray made the discovery on the weekend.
For amateur astronomers, discovering a supernova is a significant and rare feat. For a 10-year-old amateur to do it — well, that’s astronomical.
Kathryn Aurora Gray of Fredericton, N.B. is basking in the spotlight after noticing what was later determined to be a magnitude 17 supernova, or exploding star, on New Year’s Eve.
It’s in the distant galaxy UGC 3378, about 240 million light years away, in the constellation of Camelopardalis.
The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada says Kathryn is the youngest person to make such a discovery, which was soon verified by amateur astronomers in Illinois and Arizona. The finding has been reported to, confirmed and announced by the International Astronomical Union.
Supernovas are stellar explosions that signal the violent deaths of stars several times the mass of our sun. They are extremely bright, and cause a burst of radiation.
“I’m really excited. It feels really good,” Kathryn said during a telephone interview early Monday evening.
She is still on Christmas break, so none of her schoolmates know yet, except for one of her friends who popped by for a play date Monday.
“I’m not sure she knew what a supernova was, but she thought it was pretty cool that I found one,” said Kathryn, a Grade 5 student who plans to keep looking for supernovas — but just as a hobby.
Her father, Paul Gray, helped her make the discovery by taking the steps to rule out asteroids and checking the list of current known supernovas.
Looking for supernovas requires combing through dozens of old images of star fields and comparing them to new pictures. Special computer software that blinks helps viewers to identify new activity. The supernovas show up as bright spots on the star fields.
Paul Gray is an amateur astronomer and his daughter expressed an interest in the field last year. Kathryn learned that a 14-year-old discovered a supernova, and felt she could top that.
Kathryn’s father gave her a test run last November using some old files. When she did it for real this week, she made her discovery after going through the fourth of 52 images on a computer screen.
The images were captured by a telescope belonging to Dave Lane, an amateur astronomer in Stillwater Lake, N.S. just outside Halifax, who emailed the images to Paul Gray.
“Kathryn pointed to the screen and said: ‘Is this one?’ I said yup, that looks pretty good,” said Paul Gray, describing his daughter’s find.
“It’s fantastic that someone so young would be passionate about astronomy. What an incredible discovery. We’re all very excited,” said Deborah Thompson, executive director of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.
The new supernova is called Supernova 2010lt.
The last supernova in our galaxy occurred several hundred years ago.
Original Article : http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/915453
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