Astronomy and Space News - Astro Watch: 10-Year-Old Boy Likely to Be the Youngest Supernova Discoverer


Friday, September 18, 2015

10-Year-Old Boy Likely to Be the Youngest Supernova Discoverer

An artist's conception of a shock wave from a supernova. Credit: Greg Stewart, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

A 10-year-old amateur astronomer in east China has possibly discovered a new supernova, and may be the youngest person in the country to make such a discovery. On Saturday, Sept. 12, Liao Jiaming, a primary school student from Hefei, capital of Anhui Province, found an unusual bright spot while scanning several black and white photographs of the Universe in an online project.

The pictures were taken by Xingming Observatory in the far western Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The popular supernova project is a citizen science program backed by Xingming and the Chinese Visual Observatory.

The photos had been browsed by several other amateurs, but nothing had been spotted. Liao's observation results were the sixtieth set he has submitted to the system. None of his previous results found a supernova.

"I want to find a star to be named after me," said Liao. "I like watching the starry sky, but cannot see them at night in the city. I like looking at pictures of them."

He has examined more than 8,000 photographs on the system since joining in the project last month, scrutinizing star pictures almost every night during the summer vacation.

"The discovery gives me more confidence. I hope to discover more supernovas," he said.

Gao Xing, founder of the Xingming Observatory, said Liao's find is very likely to be a supernova and after calculation, probably around 220 million light-years from Earth. He has submitted the discovery to the International Astronomical Union (IAU) for confirmation.

When stars reach the end of their life, they collapse in on themselves in an explosion called a supernova that can outshine an entire galaxy.

Thousands of supernovas have been observed, but the majority of them were found by computers, said Kong Xu, a professor of astronomy at China Science and Technology University in Hefei.

In 2013, another ten-year-old, a Canadian, became the youngest person to discover a supernova, according to the professor, who said he could not judge through experience, what him Liao had discovered is a supernova or not. "It has to be confirmed by spectrum tests."

"Though it may have no significant research value, public participation in the search project raises the people's interest in astronomy," he said.


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