10-Year-Old Is Youngest To Discover Supernova

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NPR's Melissa Block talks to 10-year-old Kathryn Aurora Gray, who is the youngest person to discover a supernova. The New Brunswick girl found the supernova — in galaxy UGC 3378 — on Jan. 2, while being supervised by her father, Paul Gray, and family friend David Lane.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This weekend, 10-year-old Kathryn Aurora Gray found something that's 240 million years older than she is. The girl from the Canadian province of New Brunswick is the youngest person ever to discover a supernova, an exploding star.

Supernovas can briefly shine as brightly as an entire galaxy. Young Kathryn Gray shares credit for this discovery with amateur astronomers Dave Lane and her father Paul Gray. This is his seventh supernova discovery.

Mr. PAUL GRAY: There are friends of mine who have searched for supernovas, and they have searched close to 2,000, 3,000 hours. I thought I was lucky when I found my first one 15 years ago because we were only doing that for 56 hours when we caught our first one.

BLOCK: Now how many hours had it been for her?

Mr. GRAY: Fifteen minutes.

BLOCK: Fifteen minutes, wow.

Mr. GRAY: It might have been ten minutes.

BLOCK: Ten year old Kathryn Gray says she found the supernova using a computer program that compares nighttime images of the sky taken through a telescope.

Ms. KATHRYN AURORA GRAY: It takes two different pictures, an older picture and a newer picture that were tooken(ph) on New Year's Eve by my dad's friend. So I was looking at the images on the computer. I hit link, it's a little button, and I hit link, and it put the two pictures together.

And then you just look around the little galaxy there, like the little ball of light that's blinking.

BLOCK: So in other words, this computer program, if I have this right, is putting two images on top of each other, and if there's something there...

Ms. GRAY: If it's not there on all the pictures, then it starts to blink.

BLOCK: And that's what you're looking for, something blinking?

Ms. GRAY: Yes.

BLOCK: And what did you think when you saw this thing blinking at you?

Ms. GRAY: Well, I thought a good possibility. So I was kind of excited that I might have found one. But I didn't want to get my hopes too high in case it wasn't.

BLOCK: But it turned out that it was. It's been verified, right?

Ms. GRAY: Yeah.

BLOCK: And the supernova has a name now, right, 2010LT?

Ms. GRAY: 2010LT.

BLOCK: No way to get it named after you?

Ms. GRAY: No.

BLOCK: No. Is that disappointing at all?

Ms. GRAY: Yeah, they do it in alphabetical.

BLOCK: Do you stop and think, Kathryn, that this supernova is 240 million light-years away? Can you even imagine what that distance means?

Ms. GRAY: It's just so far away, you'd never be able to see it with only your eyes. You can probably barely see it with a telescope, too.

BLOCK: Do you think, Kathryn, that this is something you want to keep on doing, either for fun or maybe when you're grown up doing something with astronomy?

Ms. GRAY: Well, I'm just going to keep it as a hobby, I think.

BLOCK: What do you like about it?

Ms. GRAY: Oh, I like being able to look at the stars, and okay, there's the Big Dipper, and there's Venus, and it's cool to be able to point those things out that I know.

BLOCK: Do you have a favorite constellation?

Ms. GRAY: My favorite constellation is called Orion. He's an archer, I think.

BLOCK: An archer, yeah, he's a big one, a big, bright one.

Ms. GRAY: Yeah.

BLOCK: He's about one of the only ones I can ever find. So he's a good one for me, too.

Ms. GRAY: I like him. I always like looking at Orion.

BLOCK: Well, Kathryn, thanks so much for talking to us. Congratulations.

Ms. GRAY: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's 10-year-old Kathryn Aurora Gray of Fredericton, New Brunswick, the youngest person ever to discover a supernova. It's in the constellation of Camelopardalis, in the galaxy UGC 3378, which is 240 million light-years away.

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