February 19, 2020

05.01.11: A New Supernova Record for the Books.

A unique discovery was made by Canadian Kathryn Gray over this past Christmas break. While scanning desktop images with her father, the Birdton New Brunswick native noticed something amiss; the tell tale sign of a newly erupted supernova.

“It’s just a really old star, really old. So, it just blows up,” Gray told Canada’s Globe & Mail press. Gray hopes to become a school teacher one day. Supernova 2010It resides in the galaxy UGC 3378 240 million light years distant in the constellation Camelopardalis. The images were acquired by the 0.36 meter telescope in David Lane’s automated Abby Ridge Observatory west of Halifax, Nova Scotia. At age 10, this makes Gray the youngest supernova discoverer to date. The observations were confirmed by observers Jack Newton in Arizona and Brian Tieman in Illinois. The supernova at time of discovery stood around +17 magnitude and the host galaxy is at +15th magnitude.

The discovery was also verified as a new supernova by ruling out other possibilities, such as a comet, asteroid, or previously identified nova. This was done by independent imaging of the region hours later, to see if the new object had disappeared or moved as a resident of our local solar neighborhood would. Further observations by large observatories will pin down crucial information such as a spectral redshift that will further characterize the object and its host galaxies’ distance.

The discovery of supernovae remains one of the few realms in which amateur observers continue to make scientific contributions. As more and more discoveries move to the desktop, large automated observatories such as Lanes keep dedicated cyber-observers such as the Gray’s in the game. Supernovae serve as standard candles giving astronomers a tool to measure extra-galactic distances and the expansion of our universe. Great work, Kathryn and team, and we look forward to more cosmic discoveries in the future!

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  1. [...] the scale of the universe tremendously wrong last month when reporting the discovery of supernova 2010It by 10-year old Kathryn Gray. Many decided to chop off the millions and simply publish the [...]

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