Things got pretty exciting in the tiny town of Birdton, New Brunswick, on Sunday.
For months, 10-year-old Kathryn Gray had been itching to hunt for supernovas. That's only natural, since her dad (Paul) already had six finds to his credit. As he tells it, "She heard me telling my wife about Caroline Moore," the New York teenager whose supernova discovery in 2008 got her a photo-op with President Obama at a White House star party.
Kathryn had seen Paul poring over supernova-patrol photos and piped up that she wanted to try. "If a 14-year-old can do it, I can do it," she insisted.
After a test run proved she could pick out suspicious brightenings in before/after image sets, Paul asked his long-time observing buddy Dave Lane to shoot a few dozen galaxy fields on New Year's Eve. Two days later, under Paul's watchful eye, Kathryn started checking for supernovas by using a computer to compare the just-shot photos with older ones. When the fourth pair of photos appeared, she said, "What's that? Could that be one?"
Amazed, Dad took a closer look. Sure enough, something was blinking in and out of view just to the northwest of UGC 3378, a 15th-magnitude galaxy in Camelopardalis some 240 million light-years distant.
A quick check showed that the 17th-magnitude blip was neither an interloping asteroid nor a known supernova. A few hours later Illinois amateur Brian Tieman confirmed the find, which was soon designated SN 2010lt, and the next day spectra taken at Whipple Observatory in Arizona pegged it as a Type 1a explosion caught near maximum brightness.
Some dedicated observers invest thousands of hours trying to find exploding stars. Kathryn Aurora Gray found her first one in less than 15 minutes. Just like that, she'd become the youngest discoverer of a supernova.
"I was kind of excited that I might have found one," she told NPR's Melissa Block during an interview yesterday. "But I didn't want to get my hopes too high in case it wasn't."
It's been whirlwind of media attention for young Kathryn since news of the supernova broke — interviews on NPR and the BBC one day, CNN and Fox News the next. I'm guessing "Show and Tell" at her school was over the top too.