June 22, 2009
In November 2008, Caroline Moore, a 14-year-old budding astronomer in Warwick, New York, discovered a supernova. And not just any supernova: This exploding star, dubbed SN 2008ha, was surprisingly dim — some 1,000 times dimmer than a typical supernova. The first official reports examining SN 2008ha's strangeness are now appearing in scientific literature.
Moore, a ninth-grader at Warwick Valley High, has garnered the distinction of being the youngest person ever to discover a supernova. And that honor is helping her to inspire a new generation of kids into the hobby of astronomy. "This year is the International Year of Astronomy
," Moore says. "We're really trying to push kids' involvement."Family business
Robert Moore, Caroline's father, is an avid astroimager and the co-chair of the NorthEast Astro-Imaging Conference. Moore and his daughter enjoy a well-equipped backyard base of operations — Deer Pond Observatory. (Caroline's telescope is a 10-inch Newtonian reflector.)
The teen's introduction to serious astronomy was not through an eyepiece, but on a computer screen. In April 2008, she began to participate in an international group called the Puckett Observatory Supernova Search (POSS) team.
POSS uses four robotic telescopes to capture digital images of the sky. The volunteers (eight right now) use special software to comb through the images for novae, or "new stars." Sometimes the nova is the sudden (and temporary) brightening of a star. But sometimes it is the one-time fireworks of a sun blowing itself to pieces: a supernova.