A ten-year-old boy has discovered a 600 million year-old supernova

P. Gray

Nathan Gray, a 10-year-old boy from Greenwood, Nova Scotia, Canada, discovered a supernova in the field of the galaxy PGC 61330 which lies in the constellation of Draco (the dragon). The discovery has been confirmed by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC). Nathan is the son of RASC member Paul Gray, and may pip his sister, Kathryn Aurora Gray, to the title of youngest supernova discoverer, by 33 days.

The supernova was imaged in the early morning hours of October 30, 2013 and discovered the next evening by Nathan Gray. He made the discovery while scanning astronomical images taken by Dave Lane, who runs the Abby Ridge Observatory (ARO) in Nova Scotia. Lane opened the dome and took an image that confirmed that the new star was still there. This is done to ensure the supernova was not an image artifact or an asteroid; an asteroid would have moved.

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

Nathan’s sister, Kathryn Aurora Gray, became internationally recognised in January 2011 when she discovered Supernova 2010lt in the galaxy UGC 3378, in the constellation of Camelopardalis. The discovery eventually earned her an audience with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Bill Anders (Apollo 8), Victor Gorbakto, and Jim Lovell (Apollo 8 & 13).  The galaxy, which is about 240 million light-years away, was imaged on New Year’s Eve 2010, and the supernova was discovered on January 2, 2011 by Kathryn and her father Paul

Supernovae are stellar explosions that occur at the end of life for stars more massive than our Sun. They are bigger than novae, which is the state our Sun will reach at the end of its life. Supernovae can be triggered in two ways: either by the sudden reignition of nuclear fusion in a compact star; or by the collapse of the core of a massive star. Supernovae produce most of the chemical elements integral to the formation of Earth and other planetary bodies. They can also be used to estimate the size and age of our universe. These explosions can be so energetic that they can be observed in distant galaxies. Nathan Gray’s newly discovered supernova could be up to 600 million light years away.

Supernovae are rare events however, and the last one known to occur in our galaxy was several hundred years ago, before the telescope was invented. Supernovae are revealed by repeatedly checking many other galaxies, as a supernova is determined as a bright point of light that wasn’t there the last time the galaxy was observed.

Dave Lane is positive what the object they have discovered is a supernova. The object has no motion, is at a large distance from the galactic plane, they have several optical confirmations, and it also has a very close angular proximity to a faint galaxy.

Nathan Gray was interviewed by CBCradio about his discovery:
 

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