10-Year-Old Girl Discovers a Supernova

by Nancy Atkinson on January 3, 2011

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A before and after animation of Supernova 2010lt. Credit: Dave Lane

A ten-year old girl from Canada has discovered a supernova, making her the youngest person ever to find a stellar explosion. The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada announced the discovery by Kathryn Aurora Gray of Fredericton, New Brunswick, (wonderful middle name!) who was assisted by astronomers Paul Gray and David Lane. Supernova 2010lt is a magnitude 17 supernova in galaxy UGC 3378 in the constellation of Camelopardalis, as reported on IAU Electronic Telegram 2618. The galaxy was imaged on New Year’s Eve 2010, and the supernova was discovered on January 2, 2011 by Kathryn and her father Paul.

Supernova 2010lt discovered by Kathryn Aurora Gray. Image credit: Dave Lane.

The observations were made from Abbey Ridge Observatory, and this is the third seen from this observatory. It was Lane’s fourth supernova discovery, Mr. Gray’s seventh, and Kathryn’s first.

The discovery was soon verified by Illinois-based amateur astronomer Brian Tieman and Arizona-based Canadian amateur astronomer Jack Newton.

Since a supernova can outshine millions of ordinary stars, it can be easy to spot with a modest telescope, even in a distant galaxy like UGC 3378 which is about 240 million light-years away. The trick is to check previous images of the same location to see if there is any changes. That’s what Kathryn was doing for the images of the galaxy taken by her father.

Supernovas are stellar explosions that signal the violent deaths of stars several times more massive than our sun, and can be used to estimate the size and age of our universe.

Supernovas are rare events. The Chandra X-Ray telescope found evidence of a supernova explosion that occurred about 140 years ago in our galaxy (although no one saw the explosion take place), making it the most recent in the Milky Way. Previously, the last known supernova in our galaxy occurred around 1680, an estimate based on the expansion of its remnant, Cassiopeia A.

Source: Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Robert January 3, 2011 at 4:12 PM

As someone who grew up in Fredericton, I’d like to congratulate both Kathryn and her dad, Paul. Hats off also to the other gentlemen who confirmed the discovery.

[Thanks for not finding it in our own galaxy or we might not be around to comment on it. ]

lucky January 3, 2011 at 7:54 PM

You go girl!

damauiman January 3, 2011 at 8:33 PM

There are 2 other object “flashing” in this animation. One in the upper right corner and a faint one in the lower right corner. What are they?

Aqua January 4, 2011 at 1:45 PM

Good observation… The upper object (Variable star?) appears stellar while the lower object appears during better seeing in that frame and looks nebular,. Is this a distant galaxy?

Navneeth January 5, 2011 at 12:14 AM

The one on the lower right resembles what an out-of-focus speck of dust sitting on the lens of a camera would look like.

jfilhaber January 6, 2011 at 2:58 PM

Upper right looks like a cosmic ray. They show up alot on long exposures. A cosmic ray hitting the ship will usually be a single pixel event or very tight compared to the spread of a stellar point source. Lower right – no idea

jfilhaber January 6, 2011 at 3:00 PM

Or when it hits the chip!

Nedim Ardoga January 4, 2011 at 12:30 AM

Congratulations to proud Gray family.

DrFlimmer January 4, 2011 at 2:22 AM

@ Robert

If you refer to a supernova harming us, I can ease your mind. A supernova has to be as close as roughly 100Ly to make any significant damage to the earth’s atmosphere. And there is nothing so close to us that could go “Kaboum”! We are quite safe here.

(If you want more information I refer you to Phil Plait and his excellent book “Death from the Skies!”)

DrFlimmer January 4, 2011 at 5:32 AM

@ moderators

If there is a possibility to move my previous post below Robert as a “reply”, then please do so! I remembered that possibility only after I hit “submit”.

Oh yeah, and delete this comment afterwards, please.

Thank you!

HeadAroundU January 4, 2011 at 5:54 AM

Yeah, what’s in the upper right corner?

ultimate_guy January 4, 2011 at 9:13 AM

… and how does it differ from the supernova discovered?

astronary January 4, 2011 at 11:03 AM

It looks like a moving object while the other one looks like a faint lens flare or reflection.

capper January 4, 2011 at 2:58 PM

Bottom right looks like an artifact. Not sure about the top right. If you look really closely you’ll see several white dots appearing in the second (containing the supernova) frame. The first frame is slightly overexposed.

capper January 4, 2011 at 5:47 PM

This story made several of the North American news shows tonight. Nancy, you were by far the first to break it.

Btw, apparently this little girl has been trying to break the record for a while now with the “help” of her father. Hmmmm…..

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