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Ten-year-old Canadian Boy Discovers a 600 Million Year-Old Supernova

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Written by Deborah Thompson on
Post Date: 
Fri, 2013/11/01

Toronto, Canada (October 31, 2013) – The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) is pleased to announce that young Canadian, Nathan Gray, age 10, has discovered a supernova in the field of the galaxy designated PGC 61330, which lies in the constellation of Draco (the dragon).

Nathan, son of RASC member Paul Gray, made the discovery while scanning astronomical images taken by RASC past president Dave Lane who runs the Abby Ridge Observatory (ARO) in Nova Scotia.  Nathan may dethrone his older sister, Kathryn Aurora Gray who in 2010 was the youngest (10 years, 44 days) supernova discoverer, by 33 days.

Kathryn Aurora Gray was internationally recognized when she discovered a supernova in the galaxy designated UGC 3378. The discovery eventually earned her an audience with astronauts such as Neil Armstrong, Bill Anders (Apollo 8), Victor Gorbakto, and Jim Lovell (Apollo 8 & 13).

Nathan’s discovery has been posted on the International Astronomical Union’s site, and confirmed by US and Italian observers. Its provisional name is: PSN J18032459+7013306, and to get an official supernova designation a large telescope needs to confirm the unique supernova light signature via a spectrum.  

Supernovae are immense explosions linked to the evolutionary end-state of certain stars. The explosions are so energetic that they can be observed in distant galaxies. Nathan’s supernova could be some 600 million light years away. Supernovas are stellar explosions that signal the violent deaths of stars several times more massive than our sun. Supernovas are interesting to astronomers because they manufacture most of the chemical elements that went into making the earth and other planets, and also because distant supernovas can be used to estimate the size and age of our universe.

“Given no motion, large distance from the galactic plane (i.e. it’s not likely a nova), and several optical confirmations, as well as its very close angular proximity to a faint galaxy, it is a supernova at any reasonable certainty,” said Lane, an astronomer in the Department of Astronomy & Physics at Saint Mary’s University and director of the Burke-Gaffney and Abbey Ridge astronomical observatories. “A significant fraction of the supernova discoveries these days are not observed spectrographically due to the sheer number of them vs. telescope time.”

Supernovas are rare events. The last one known to occur in our galaxy occurred several hundred years ago, before the invention of the telescope. The odds of discovery can be increased by repeatedly checking many other galaxies. A new supernova reveals itself as a bright point of light that wasn't there the last time the galaxy was checked. Since a supernova can outshine millions of ordinary stars it is easy to spot with a modest telescope.

Founded in 1868, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada is Canada's leading astronomy organization bringing together more than 4,200 enthusiastic amateurs, educators and professionals. RASC and its 29 Centres across Canada offer both national and local programming and services. RASC is dedicated to the Advancement of Astronomy and Allied Sciences and stimulating and inspiring interest to promote and increase knowledge in astronomy and related sciences in Canada.

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For more information contact:

Deborah Thompson CAE               

Executive Director, Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

203-4920 Dundas Street West

Toronto, ON M9A 1B7

tel: 416-924-7973  toll free: 888-924-7272

www.rasc.ca