January 5, 2011

Girl Sets Record As Youngest Person To Find Supernova

A 10-year-old Canadian girl has become the youngest person ever to discover a supernova, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) reported on Monday.

Kathryn Aurora Gray, from Fredericton in the province of New Brunswick, discovered the magnitude 17 supernova on Sunday as she searched scores of telescopic images of star fields in distant galaxies. 

The images had been taken at an amateur observatory and sent to her father.

"The RASC is pleased to announce the discovery of a supernova by a 10-year-old amateur astronomer -- the youngest person ever to have made such a discovery," said the society in a statement.

A supernova is an exploding star that can sometimes briefly outshine an entire galaxy. Highly rare, these spectacular explosions mark the violent deaths of massive stars several times the size of the Sun, which then run out of fuel and collapse under the weight of their own gravity, forming an ultra-dense object known as a neutron star. 

Ms. Gray discovered Supernova 2010lt in the constellation of Camelopardalis in the galaxy UGC 3378, about 240 light-years from Earth.

"I'm really excited. It feels really good," she told Canada's Star newspaper.

Upon making the discovery, Gray immediately informed her amateur astronomer father Paul.

"Kathryn pointed to the screen and said: 'Is this one?' I said yup, that looks pretty good," Mr. Gray told the newspaper.

Two U.S.-based amateur astronomers verified the find, which was then reported to the International Astronomical Union's Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams.

"It's fantastic that someone so young would be passionate about astronomy. What an incredible discovery. We're all very excited," said Deborah Thompson of RASC.

The last supernova in our galaxy occurred several hundred years ago.

Supernovas are of particular interest to astronomers because they make most of the chemical elements that formed the Earth and other planets, the RASC said.

Distant supernovas can also be used to estimate the size and age of the universe.


Image Caption: This image was acquired in the early evening on New Year's Eve in 2010 and discovered on January 2, 2011. Credit: Kathryn Aurora Gray (age 10) and Paul Gray (located in Birdton, NB).  


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