Stargazer discovers new supernova

Brendan Downs’ photo of the new supernova he discovered this week.
Brendan Downs’ photo of the new supernova he discovered this week. Supplied

EYES intently scanning the night sky, gazing at light emitted when the dinosaurs roamed, ever hopeful for a discovery of a breath-taking rarity.

Such is the devotion of amateur astronomers such as Brendan Downs who spends every clear night looking into his telescope.

His incredible patience was rewarded early Sunday morning when he spotted a previously unidentified exploding star.

Now officially catalogued as 2010dc, the supernova is in a galaxy far, far away called Pava.

“I don't know how far away it is yet,” the Eastern Heights man said. “But it's tens of millions of light years away. That means it exploded basically when the dinosaurs were on Earth and the light is just reaching us now.”

The process of finding a new supernova is an exercise in patience Job would have envied.

Mr Downs said it started with him taking pictures of galaxies in the night sky and comparing them to reference pictures.

“Then hopefully I see a star where there wasn't before,” he said. “You need to take a lot of pictures. I've taken 2000 pictures this year and 3000 last year without finding anything until last Sunday morning.”

Because of the patience needed, he said there weren't many people willing to put in the time and put up with disappointment.

Mr Downs found a supernova before, but that was in 1997.

“There are professionals with automated programs, but the professionals don't have the time to find nothing,” he said.

“Amateurs do have the time and, even though most of the discoveries are still made by the professionals, the amateurs sometimes sneak in.”

He said there was a check-list of things to do to verify the discovery before details were sent to the International Astronomical Union.

It sent an email this week confirming Mr Downs had discovered a new supernova.

“I discovered it at two o'clock in the morning and my heart rate really jumped for a while,” he said.

“I didn't get much sleep the next day as we were doing the verification work because my heart was pumping too hard.

“I do it for the sense of discovery, to think that I'm finding something that no one else knew about.”

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