Age is no barrier when it comes to supernova hunting, as 10-year-old Kathryn Gray has just proven.
The Canadian schoolgirl was scanning through astronomical images on Jan. 2 when she made the record-breaking find. According to the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Kathryn is the the youngest ever discoverer of a supernova.
The supernova was spotted erupting to life in the constellation of Camelopardalis in a galaxy called UGC 3378, some 240 million light-years distant. Shining at a brightness of magnitude 17, the flash was imaged on New Year’s Eve. Magnitude 17 is the approximate brightness of the dwarf planet Haumea (in the Kuiper Belt) as seen from Earth.
Helped by her amateur astronomer father Paul Gray, Kathryn was taught how to look out for these transient flashes using a computer program that compares new and old images of the same portion of the night sky. Blinking between the new and old images, anything like the motion of planets, asteroids or supernovae can be spotted.
It is an arduous task, and a significant discovery for any astronomer, but Kathryn was determined to become the youngest person to make a supernova discovery.
“I’m really excited. It feels really good,” Kathryn told the Canada Star newspaper on Monday.
Kathryn showed an interest in astronomy last year and became fascinated with trying to find a supernova when she learned that the previous record was held by a 14-year-old.
The supernova, called SN 2010lt, was observed by Dave Lane, an amateur astronomer near Halifax, Canada, who emailed the images to Paul Gray for analysis. Kathryn was 4 photos into a planned 52 photo analysis session when she made the find.
“Kathryn pointed to the screen and said: ‘Is this one?’ I said yup, that looks pretty good,” said Paul, describing his daughter’s find.
As this story proves, astronomy is a science that can be carried out by anyone who holds an interest in the cosmos. Who knows where Kathryn’s interest will take her next?
Watch the Canadian Press video about Kathryn’s discovery:
Image: Supernova SN 2012lt (Dave Lane/RASC)