14 year old girl discovers new supernova

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Sandra Porter
There aren't many reports of 14 year-olds making scientific contributions. Even in the field of astronomy, Caroline Moore, the youngest person to discover a supernova, is a bit unusual.

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This supernova comes from Astronomy Picture of the day. Photo credits: High-Z Supernova Search Team, HST, NASA

HT: National Science Foundation

The National Science Foundation reported that Moore has found an supernova candidate that may be as unusual as she is.

"It's really a strange supernova," said Moore. "A supernova is a huge explosion deep in the core of a star, whereas a nova is an explosion on the outside surface of a star. Of Supernova 2008ha she says, "It's somewhere between a supernova and a nova. So it's not nearly as big as the explosion of a supernova."

According to Alex Filippenko, an astronomer at UC Berkeley, Moore's supernova doesn't fit either of the two known types. Her supernova is neither a type I, which come from exploding white dwarfs, or a type II, which originate from the collapse of massive stars.

"Supernova 2008ha was more powerful than a typical nova or even the brightest nova that we know of, so it was sort of a supernova, but wasn't as powerful as a genuine supernova. We think that it may have been some sort of intermediate object, really a new class."

The discovery is interesting, but I'm more intrigued by the way Moore got interested in astronomy and the way she was able to make her contribution. I wasn't able to find that information, but it's clear that Moore belongs to an amazing community. Quoting again from the NSF:

Alex Filippenko also views astronomy as a democratic process in which anyone, regardless of age and experience, can make a significant impact.

"Astronomy is there for everyone. Many people simply enjoy it and enjoy learning about the discoveries of astronomers and that's great. But it's wonderful that ordinary people who have ordinary jobs not in the sciences, can also contribute to actual research," said Filippenko.

With the new age of genomics upon us and our increasing ability to produce more data than we can annotate, I hope we can make this spirit part of our digital biology world, as well.

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