On January 2, 2011, Kathryn Aurora Gray of Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, became the youngest person to ever discover a supernova. She's only ten years old.
Kathryn's father, Paul Gray, is a professional astronomer who was studying observations made from the Abbey Ridge Observatory in Stillwater Lake, Nova Scotia, on December 31. Gray had previously discovered three other supernovae, but his daughter beat him to this one. Kathryn was looking at the telescopic images Paul and his partner David Lane had left out when she noticed something strange. She saw a point of light that appeared in one image but was absent from others taken of the same patch of sky.
The point of light that Kathryn noticed was a magnitude 17 supernova, the violent death of a massive star several hundred times the size of our Sun. "Normally eclipsed by the shining core of the 240 million-light-year-distant Galaxy UGC 3378 [seen in the image above] which it inhabits, the exploding star is seen as a faint dot in our night sky," Motherboard.TV explained.
Supernovae occur all the time throughout the universe, but capturing and observing one is extremely rare. Kathryn's discovery was quickly verified by Brian Tieman, an Illinois-based amateur astronomer, and Arizona-based Canadian amateur astronomer Jack Newton. After verification, it was reported to the International Astronomical Union's Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada moved quickly to put out a press release celebrating Kathryn's discovery.
Image: David Lane.