New Year’s Eve supernova discovered by 10-year-old Canadian girl

finding a supernova

Nebulas are the ancient remnants of supernovas such as the one discovered by 10-year old astronomer Kathryn Aurora Gray. Image: CC NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr

A supernova was discovered by a 10-year-old girl in Canada, and she became the youngest person ever to detect the occurrence of an exploding star. Kathryn Aurora Gray of Fredericton, New Brunswick, discovered the supernova Jan. 2 with the help of her father, who has discovered his own supernovas. Supernova explosions are rare cosmic events that are considered a feather in the cap of the most experienced astronomers.

Finding a supernova

Kathryn Aurora Gray discovered her supernova scanning images of the night sky taken with her father’s telescope on New Year’s Eve. Astronomers detect supernovas using a computer program that compares images of a portion of sky with previously taken images of the same area. When a supernova explodes, the bright flash outshines the surrounding stars, appearing up on a subsequent image where it didn’t before. Kathryn’s night sky images were taken at nearby Abbey Ridge Observatory. The supernova was discovered in a galaxy called UGC 3378 about 240 million light years from Earth.

precocious astronomer hits the jackpot

Kathryn’s supernova discovery came early in comparison to the careers of most astronomers. She became interested in astronomy about a year ago and decided to focus on finding a supernova when she learned that the youngest person to ever discover an exploding star was a 14-year-old. Kathryn will share credit for the supernova discovery with her father Paul Gray, who had already discovered six supernovas before his daughter’s breakthrough.

Supernovas in our neighborhood

Astronomers study supernovas because their blasts spew chemical elements billions of miles into space that eventually coalesce into planets. Kathryn’s supernova exploded 240 million years ago. The last supernova detected in the Milky Way galaxy exploded about 140 years ago. No one on Earth observed it at the time, but the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, an orbiting telescope, detected remnants of the explosion. Prior to that, the last known supernova in the Milky Way exploded in about 1680.



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