Youngest hunter bags a supernova... without a telescope

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Jan. 5 2011 10:20 AM

Youngest hunter bags a supernova... without a telescope

When Kathryn Aurora(!) Gray was born, the light from Supernova 2010lt had been traveling for about 239,999,990 years. Ten years later, she spotted it on a computer monitor and became the youngest person to ever discover a supernova.

Lots of folks have been covering this story (and making sure they wrote out her middle name, which is kinda awesome), including the Hive Overmind's DiscoBlog and Universe Today, so I won't go into details. But this is pretty nifty. It used to be that it took long, laborious hours at the eyepiece to find exploding stars, and not many were found in a given year -- heck, the first supernova in 1987 wasn't seen until late February (and went on to become the most famous supernova in 400 years).

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Now, though, automated telescopes scan the sky, and computer programs have taken away a lot of the burden of supernova hunting. To give you an idea of how many are found every year, they are named in alphabetical order, a-z, so that the 27th of the year is then aa, the 28th is ab, and so on. 2010lt was therefore the 332nd supernova found in 2010! Amazing. Each one is important, too, since many supernovae act oddly, and you never know when one will be special and indicate something new... and even if it's just another run-of-the-mill explosion, we're still talking about the detonation of a mighty star releasing energy quintillions of times that of the Sun!

So congratulations to Ms. Gray, and I hope 2010lt is the first of many adventures she has with the sky.


Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death from the Skies! Follow him on Twitter.