Amateur Astronomer Discovers Distant Supernova While Testing a New Camera

Wednesday, 21 February 2018 - 6:35PM
Space
Astronomy
Wednesday, 21 February 2018 - 6:35PM
Amateur Astronomer Discovers Distant Supernova While Testing a New Camera
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NASA
After years of study and searching, astronomers have finally gained a look at the earliest start of a supernova's massive explosion. This is an feat that scientists have been attempting to achieve for a long time, and in classic form, it was made completely by accident.

The hero of the hour is Víctor Buso, an amateur photographer and astronomer who recently got a new camera, and wanted to test it out by taking some photos of the stars through his 16-inch telescope. In doing so, he managed to unintentionally capture an explosion in the distant spiral galaxy NGC 613, as he took the first known photos of the moment a supernova first explodes into a giant fiery ball of energy.




While this discovery happened entirely by chance, the really fantastic thing here is that Buso was competent and knowledgeable enough to recognize his own discovery. Not only did he take several different long-exposure photos of the same part of the sky, as he looked over the photos he's taken he realized that there was a faint light in his later pictures that wasn't present in the first few images.

Soon, Buso was showing off his pictures to astronomer Melina Bersten of the Astrofísica de La Plata in Argentina, and scientists were clamoring to analyze his discovery in order to learn more about the moments immediately before and after a supernova bursts into flame.



Alex Filippenko, an astronomer that performed follow-up research into Buso's pictures, describes the pictures as being "like winning the cosmic lottery". According to Filippenko:

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"Professional astronomers have long been searching for such an event. Observations of stars in the first moments they begin exploding provide information that cannot be directly obtained in any other way. Buso's data are exceptional. This is an outstanding example of a partnership between amateur and professional astronomers."
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Additional analysis of the supernova, named SN 2016gkg, has revealed more information about the event. This is apparently a Type IIb supernova, which was once a particularly large star that had dispersed most of its hydrogen, much like the most distant supernova that's ever been recorded, which was also recently discovered.




It's wonderful to know that with relatively simple equipment, an amateur scientist was able to capture pictures of what professionals have been hoping to observe for years. This is partially down to luck, but has also been helped by the fact that Buso knew that he'd spotted something unusual, allowing him to bring it to the attention of more experienced stargazers.

This all just goes to show that the right person, in the right place, with enthusiasm and eagerness to learn, can change the course of scientific discovery for years to come.
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