Department of Astronomy & Physics

Supernova Discovery

Kathryn at her computer comparing star fields taken at different times. (photo courtesy Paul Gray).

A supernova was discovered by Kathryn Aurora Gray (age 10) using images taken from theAbbey Ridge Observatory (operated by our Department's Astronomy technician, David Lane). Kathryn, daughter of Paul Gray, who, himself has discovered a half-dozen supernova, wanted to follow in her father's footsteps. She spent the fall of 2010 examining a library of practice images looking for the sudden appearance of a new star. Then in the new year began looking at current images.

Supernova are not new stars but, in fact, old stars, nearing the end of their nuclear burning life. In a final burst, the star ignites enough nuclear fuel in its core that the resultant wave of energy blows away the outer layers of the star (in some cases forming a ring nebula). In the night sky, an anonymous and faint star, will suddenly appear. Kathryn's supernova (also known as Supernova 2010lt) is far too faint to be seen by the naked eye. Her supernova (mag ~17) appeared in the galaxy UGC 3378 (mag 15). Supernova are extremely important to astronomers. They are used to measure distances to distant galaxies and are, as a consequence, central to the debate on the existence of Dark Energy.

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