Monday, June 15, 2009

Youngest Discoverer of Oddest Supernova

"Peculiar, Junior-sized Supernova Discovered By New York Teen"
Science News, Science Daily (June 11, 2009)

"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.

"Even though this explosion was a weakling compared to most supernovae, for a short time SN 2008ha was 25 million times brighter than the sun. However, since it is 70 million light years away, it appeared very faint viewed from Earth.

"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...."

Caroline Moore discovered SN 2008ha with a relatively small telescope, and now much more powerful and specialized instruments are studying it.

This article does a pretty good job of discussing what makes this supernova so odd - and interesting - in fairly non-technical language.

"...'Coincidentally, the youngest person to ever discover a supernova found one of the most peculiar and interesting supernovae ever,' remarked [University of California, Berkeley supernova group leader Alex] Filippenko. 'This shows that no matter what your age, anyone can make a significant contribution to our understanding of the Universe.'..."

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