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Space Science

Junior-Sized Supernova Discovered By New York Teen 154

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the so-many-prodigies dept.
Matt_dk writes "In November 2008, Caroline Moore, a 14-year-old student from upstate New York, discovered a supernova in a nearby galaxy, making her the youngest person ever to do so. Additional observations determined that the object, called SN 2008ha, is a new type of stellar explosion, 1000 times more powerful than a nova but 1000 times less powerful than a supernova. Astronomers say that it may be the weakest supernova ever seen."
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Junior-Sized Supernova Discovered By New York Teen

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  • It'll light up the night sky.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ChefInnocent (667809)
      Is that because you torched it in anger after it "no va"?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      A note on geography: upstate New York is not NYC. It's the rest of the state, some of it is far enough away from the light polution [darksky.org] that there is a chance see stars. There's small chance of seeing even the moon, let alone the milkyway [cosmosmagazine.com] in any major US city.

      It's a shame. There's no good reason we have to spend good money shining light up into the sky, rather than keeping it on the ground where we paid for it to be. In a lot of areas a good case could be made to put the streetlights on timers and cut

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by amicusNYCL (1538833)

        There's small chance of seeing even the moon, let alone the milkyway [cosmosmagazine.com] in any major US city.

        Huh? Which city have you been to where the ambient light pollution is brighter than the moon?

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Chris Burke (6130)

          Huh? Which city have you been to where the ambient light pollution is brighter than the moon?

          He probably lives in LA, where it's not a matter of the light pollution being brighter than the moon, but of the moon not being bright enough to penetrate the smog. Ask a 1st Grader what color the sky is, and they'll enthusiastically answer "brown!"

        • by ArcadeNut (85398)

          Vegas? :)

        • It's very difficult to see the New Moon (most of the illumination of the thing being from 'Earth Shine'), especially when there's any light pollution.

        • by SL Baur (19540)

          Which city have you been to where the ambient light pollution is brighter than the moon?

          Central Tokyo comes pretty close.

          • That would probably be the only one that makes sense, I would bet that the light pollution in central Tokyo is among the worst in the world, I can't seem to find any rankings. But even there I would imagine that you could still see the moon. Still, the GP claimed this:

            There's small chance of seeing even the moon, let alone the milkyway in any major US city.

            There's no way that's true, there's not a single US city (let alone "any major" US city) where you can't see the moon because of light pollution.

    • by Gilmoure (18428)

      Had the fuel line nicked by the fan blade on my '72 RS Nova. Happened just as I pulled up to a 7-11. All this white mist/smoke came out from under the hood, I turned off the car, got out and opened up the hood.

      Whoosh!

      Nothing like nice cloud of fuel suddenly igniting. It burned itself out but I was enough to fry my eye brows/eye lashes.

      So yeah, Nova's can be kinda' bright. Not so much the drivers, though.

  • by ErikTheRed (162431) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @12:59PM (#28296031) Homepage

    Astronomers say that it may be the weakest supernova ever seen.

    What actually happened is that the astronomers were told that a 14-year-old child found a supernova that they'd all missed, and they groaned "Oh, that's weak!"

    • by KevinKnSC (744603) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @01:18PM (#28296351)

      It bothers me that /. editors missed the obvious headline "Junior-Sized Supernova Discovered by Junior-Sized Astronomer."

      • by steelfood (895457)

        As opposed to super-sized astronomers finding supernovas?

  • by the_arrow (171557) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @01:00PM (#28296033) Homepage

    It seems like this kid didn't have to worry about light pollution [slashdot.org].

    • by bhagwad (1426855)
      Yeah, that's surprising. I wonder how she was able to do that. Was she in a really dark area, or did she go out on a trip to stargaze? I know you can't see jackshit when you're surrounded by light no matter what telescope you're using.
      Also, I'd like to know whether she actually SAW the transition happen, or did she notice something that wasn't there a few days ago? And then when she knew that something was different, did she call someone? Tell the papers? Tell her parents? (who must also need to know some
    • It seems like this kid didn't have to worry about light pollution.

      She didn't have to worry about heavy pollution either!

      (cricket noises)

    • That's because it wasn't in the milky way! The post you linked to says nothing about OTHER galaxies!
  • supernova:nova = 1000000:1

    And things between wasn't discovered?

    The universe is wonderful.
    • by mea37 (1201159) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @02:01PM (#28297103)

      Well, yes...

      The thing to realize is, in spite of their related names, a nova and a supernova are fundamentally different phenomena. They happen to have enough similarity (esp. in what's observed) to be named as though a "supernova" were just a nova only bigger, but that obscures huge differences in what's really going on.

      AFAIK, neither phenomenon would be expected to produce this kind of mid-range result. Possibly it's a different kind of event altogether. (Must... resist... LHC joke...)

  • ... was discovered by the weakest supernova discoverer to date.

    Neat.
  • by jimbudncl (1263912) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @01:07PM (#28296157)
    She discovered it and they didn't even name it after her??? Sue, Caroline, sue!
  • This is actually the first observed instance of a new class of objects... planets destroyed by Darth Vader's Death Star.
  • by AaronParsons (1172445) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @01:11PM (#28296219) Homepage
    The cool thing is that in astronomy, we're still miles from having full sky coverage 24/7. This means that even if you have a (relatively) small telescope, you can still see things the big ones can't just by looking somewhere no one else is at a particular time.

    I wish they described how the discovered got funneled up to the supernova scientists on the paper published on it. She must have been with someone who really knew that the "new star" she saw there wasn't supposed to be there, and that person deserves some credit, too!
    • by dword (735428)

      She just pointed the telescope at the sky and waited long enough. I believe that if you wait enough, you're bound to seeing something unique because there's lots of stuff out there that only comes out every once in a while. This sounds like a crazy idea, so who would believe it, right? There must have been someone who understood that it was possible, someone with astronomy knowledge. That's who deserves some credit!

    • by cwills (200262) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @02:29PM (#28297611)

      Within the amateur and professional astronomy circles there is a fairly wide known and standard method of reporting astronomical stuff (see http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/iau/cbat.html [harvard.edu] )

      Many deepsky objects (galaxies, nebulae, star clusters) become "well known friends" by amateur astronomers. For example, when ever I'm out observing I will usually do a quick peek at M13 in Hercules, M81, M82 in Ursa Major, or parts of the Veil nebulae in Cygnus when they are visible (just to name a few). I suspect if there was a new supernova in M81 or M82, there is a chance that I would "catch it" by noticing something "odd" (think of it like noticing a new pimple on a friends face). Once something "odd" is noticed, the next step would be to check recent and older photographs of that region. If it's suspected to be "new" then the information is submitted to the IAU Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams according to the instructions listed above. Usually the next step that happens is that the pros might get involved to verify the finding.

      There are "rules" on who discovers the object, based mainly on the chronological time that IAU receives the information. Co-discovery of the same object can happen, usually the cut-off is when the IAU sends out the notice that there is a potential new object. In other words, say that I notice a new brightness in M81, I record the information and at 10:15 GMT send it in to the IAU CBAT. Someone else also notices the same object and sends in the information at 10:30 GMT. There is a CBAT notice sent out to subscribers at 10:35 GMT. Any observation after 10:35 would not be considered a discovery.

      BTW if you go out to http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/iau/lists/RecentSupernovae.html [harvard.edu] and look for 2008ha, you will find that there where 2 other people who are listed as discoverers of the same supernova, and it looks like Caroline Moore has been "working" with the same folks because she is also listed with at least one of them on two other recent supernova discoveries.

      • IAU Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams

        Telegrams?

        --- have found possible new celestial phenomenon - stop - proof sent as electronumerical photograph following this message - stop - hcdejong - ends
        - START teletype-mime-v1.0 - 00011110101 11010101010 101101 110 1110101 0110 1010 10101 0101 1

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Kentari (1265084)

        Indeed, she is working on Tim Puckett's search team. Tim Puckett is a very driven amateur supernova hunter who collaborates with a number of other observers, like Jack Newton, who is the other co-discoverer listed. They collect massive amounts of data each night with semi and full automatic telescopes Basically they don't have the time to sift through all of it. Hence they created a search team of amateurs looking through their data. Caroline was part of this search team. Tim Puckett and his team have disco

        • by cwills (200262) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @11:28PM (#28304047)

          I'd give her a little more credit... I don't know all the details but reading the "Caroline's story" it does sound like she was capturing and processing the images herself (with some assistence in getting going and learning what to do). It might have been "Dad's" observatory and such.. but it still looks like she was doing the work. The co-discovery might simply have been the "hey let me check my data as well..".

          The setup that some of these SN hunters is fairly automated, they maintain a list of objects that they will check on a routine basis. A group of SN hunters will sometimes pool their resources, share lists, coordinate what objects they are going to check, etc. The scopes can be automated to jump from object to object, take some exposures, then move on to the next object. The processing of the exposures can be partially automated, but it still requires going through them to determine if it's real or an imaging artifict or a cosmic ray on the image. This used to be done by using an optical blink comparitor (an old school optical box set up where you can quickly flip from viewing one photographic plate to another)

          Anyway -- Kudos to Caroline. It's a fun hobby that has been keeping me busy since I was 12 and had access to a 10" Newtonian.

        • by Mjec (666932)

          I believe they find a supernova on 1 image out of 9000

          You mean she looked at OVER 9000 IMAGES?

    • I wish they described how the discovered got funneled up to the supernova scientists on the paper published on it. She must have been with someone who really knew that the "new star" she saw there wasn't supposed to be there, and that person deserves some credit, too!

      She shares the hobby with her dad. There's some more on that part of the story, along with a picture of her rig, here: http://www.areavoices.com/astrobob/?blog=37663 [areavoices.com]

  • "Welcome to McUniverse, would you like to try a black hole sundae?"

    "No thanks, could I just have a junior super nova salad, to go?"

    "Would you like to biggie size that?"

    "....."
  • It goes both ways! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dword (735428) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @01:13PM (#28296257)

    Astronomers say that it may be the weakest supernova ever seen.

    Or the strongest nova..

    • by Shark (78448)

      This [slashdot.org] (hey, it's a citation), guy actually pointed out that it's not quite that way.

  • North Korea Conducts New Nuke Test

    From TFA:The peculiar object effectively bridged the gap between a nova (a nuclear explosion on the surface of an old, compact star called a white dwarf) and a type Ia supernova (the destructive death of a white dwarf caused by a runaway nuclear reaction starting deep in the star). SN 2008ha likely was a failed supernova where the explosion was unable to destroy the entire star. âoeIf a normal supernova is a nuclear bomb, then SN 2008ha is a bunker buster,â sai
  • Weakest Supernova? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by kenp2002 (545495)

    Pet Peeve Alert:

    Weakest Supernova or STRONGEST NOVA?

    I'm mean seriously, a star exploding is a star exploding. Mario or Super Mario. He's still a fat plumber who eats shrooms...

    I bet if the highly paid scientists found it they'd be touting the "Strongest NOVA ever see discovered" where as some plucky kid finds it they're like "umm weakest Super nova ever...."

    Word play is fun...

    It is almost like asking "Is it an A- or a B+" or the musical types the whole sharp flat deal...

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      No. A nova and a supernova are two completely distinct events, with the force of the resulting explosion being only the most obvious difference between the two. This was a small supernova. Google it or something.
    • by kindbud (90044) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @01:52PM (#28296913) Homepage

      A supernova entails core collapse and results in the destruction of the star. A nova is an explosion occurring in the upper level of a star's atmosphere and does not destroy the star. Novas recur in a more or less cyclic fashion, supernovas never recur.

      • by kenp2002 (545495)

        But it still goes boom right? Err wait no sound... well actually... no.. but there would be a pressure wave... no air to carry it... DAMN YOU SCI-FI CHANNEL!!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by oldhack (1037484)
      Isn't discovering the weakest more impressive than the strongest?
    • by k.a.f. (168896)
      Who modded this insightful?

      An A- is quite distinct from a B+. Neighbouring, but different. An f sharp is quite different from a g flat in function, and only sounds identical if your hearing is mediocre. A supernova and a nova work on quite different lines, and in fact there are several types of each. And please, resist the temptation of tagging this as "mininova"... it's most definitely either a maxinova, or else a mini-supernova.

      [obligatory lawn reference]

      • by kenp2002 (545495)

        I honestly don't know. Some days I am just in the mood to burn karma and I fail miserably. I was shooting for Funny actually.

      • An f sharp is quite different from a g flat in function, and only sounds identical if your hearing is mediocre

        So if I hear middle F# (369.99 Hz) and middle Gb (369.99 Hz) as the same note (when middle C=261.63Hz [mtu.edu]), my hearing is mediocre?

        Wow, that's just... wow.

    • Weakest Supernova or STRONGEST NOVA?

      I'm mean seriously, a star exploding is a star exploding

      When you've seen one redwood, you've seen 'em all, eh?
      Here's a quote from the first article a Google search turned up: But if SN2008ha is a Type II supernova, where did the hydrogen go? The answer might be mass loss. Some stars are so massive and luminous that they lose their outer hydrogen layers in strong outflowing stellar winds. And because they're so massive, their cores collapse into a black hole without transfering energy to the outer layers of the star, which may explain the low luminosity of th

    • Pet Peeve Alert:

      Weakest Supernova or STRONGEST NOVA?

      I'm mean seriously, a star exploding is a star exploding.

      Nova and Super Nova are completely different phenomena. It is confusing that they are both called Nova, but that's the name they were given when they were just lights in the sky, and we didn't have proper models for what we were looking at.

      A nova is a white dwarf in a binary system that collects gas from the neighbor and occasionally blows it top. A supernova is a huge star collapsing down to a neutron star and releasing a lot of energy in the process.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by sFurbo (1361249)
      But they are different physical phenomenons, in the nova, only hydrogen burns, in a type Ia supernova, carbon burns (type Ia, Ic and II doesn't come from whote dwarves). So it makes sense to distinguish between powerful novae and weak supernovae, even if they can have the same luminosity.
      • by kenp2002 (545495)

        But they are different physical phenomenons, in the nova, only hydrogen burns, in a type Ia supernova, carbon burns (type Ia, Ic and II doesn't come from whote dwarves). So it makes sense to distinguish between powerful novae and weak supernovae, even if they can have the same luminosity.

        fair enough

    • by Cytotoxic (245301)

      Pet Peeve Alert:

      Weakest Supernova or STRONGEST NOVA?

      They can tell the difference between a Nova and a Supernova by the light curves. The two distinctly different events have different brightening curves as the explosion proceeds, so they can tell which one it is no matter how far away or how bright or dim, as long as they catch it early enough in the process.

    • It is almost like asking "Is it an A- or a B+" or the musical types the whole sharp flat deal...

      n-sharp and (n+1)-flat are only the same in some quite specific tunings. Admittedly, those are the most widely used
      nowadays, but by no means the only ones. Have a look at musical tuning theories before you make fun of them.

      • by kenp2002 (545495)

        I am old enough where every AC\DC song sounds the same. Do you honestly think studying tuning theory is going to correct my musical bias? :) Hell at the rate I am going John Tesh and Ozzie will sound the same in a few years :)

        Anyways I am too old and cranky to become a music major at this age...

  • If it's not quite a supernova, but more than a regular nova, does that make it a sidekick?
  • Awesome (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pluther (647209) <pluther.usa@net> on Thursday June 11, 2009 @01:23PM (#28296431) Homepage

    While the article, and many commenters so far have remarked on the irony of the youngest amateur astronomer finding the smallest supernova, it's pretty remarkable that what she actually found was a completely new astronomical phenomenon.

    From what I understand, the mechanisms behind novae and supernovae are pretty well understood. But this is something new altogether. According to the article, they're not even sure it's an actual supernova. Nobody has ever seen this exact behavior in a star before. We're going to learn a lot from this, and it would be pretty damn remarkable even if the discoverer hadn't been a 14 year old amateur.

    • by Azghoul (25786)

      As Gregg Easterbrook has been known to write, it's the massive explosions of an interstellar war.

  • discovered a supernova in a nearby galaxy, making her the youngest person ever to do so

    She may be the youngest to find a supernova in another galaxy, but I'll do better yet by watching for the first supernova in our solar sytem. We'll see who's laughing then!

  • The Supernova Junior: now only $0.99 at Burger King

    • The Supernova Junior: now only $0.99 at Burger King

      I think Taco Bell beat them to it - at least it felt like a supernova in my bowel the last time I ate a Taco Bell product. . .

  • by Captain Spam (66120) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @02:21PM (#28297473) Homepage

    Additional observations determined that the object, called SN 2008ha, is a new type of stellar explosion, 1000 times more powerful than a nova but 1000 times less powerful than a supernova.

    Well, I'm glad to see celestial phenomena follow the metric system, at least. I propose we name this a kilonova and rename the supernova to a meganova.

  • chemistry, physics, biochemistry, computer science, mathematics, etc.

    you need to slave almost your whole life, be at the top of your mental game, have tons of education under your belt, and you need extremely expensive instruments (well, not math)

    but to make an important contribution to astronomy, you just need to look up with a cheap introductory level hobbyist telescope available at walmart, and some passion

    that's amazing

    • by selven (1556643)

      and you need extremely expensive instruments (well, not math)

      A large portion of modern math is done with the aid of supercomputers.

  • I propose calling it a giganova.

I've never been canoeing before, but I imagine there must be just a few simple heuristics you have to remember... Yes, don't fall out, and don't hit rocks.

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