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Citizen scientists find supernova and break stargazing world record

Mark Dunn, April 16, 2018 7:33PM Herald Sun

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Thousands of amateur stargazers in Australia broke the world record. Picture: andBeyond.com media_cameraThousands of amateur stargazers in Australia broke the world record. Picture: andBeyond.com

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Australian citizen scientists have found a new supernova — an exploding star — and set a new world record.

Four people identified a flash of light emitted from a galaxy 1.1 billion light years away, which was confirmed as a supernova by the Anglo-Australian Telescope at Siding Spring in NSW.

The discovery was part of a Guinness World Record-breaking event involving thousands of everyday Australians, stargazers and citizen-scientists*.

One of the supernova discoverers was Pip Newling from Sydney, who said it was “ridiculously exciting” to be part of the project.

More than 40,000 looked at the moon through telescopes at once for 10 minutes on Wednesday night. The exact number is so big it’s still being counted.

The previous record for simultaneous* stargazing was set by the Australian National University’s Mount Stromlo Observatory using 7960 people at 37 locations across the nation, all looking to the night sky in August 2015.

People across Australia were urged to help break the stargazing world record on May 23. media_cameraPeople across Australia were urged to help break the stargazing world record on May 23.

“Astronomy* is a way to get everyone interested in science and with the future Australian space agency on the way, there’s never been a better time to look skywards,” ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics’* Dr Brad Tucker said before the event.

“The great thing about this Guinness World Record attempt is that anyone anywhere in Australia can take part and I can’t wait to break our record from three years ago.”

The world record coincided with the ABC’s Stargazing Live TV event broadcast from the ANU Siding Spring Observatory, hosted by Professor Brian Cox and TV personality Julia Zemiro on May 22, 23 and 24.

Brian Cox hosted the Stargazing Live show on the ABC. media_cameraBrian Cox hosted the Stargazing Live show on the ABC.

Stargazing parties were held in an effort to beat the record.

Dr Tucker also led a citizen-science project to search for new exploding stars in space, known as supernovas.

Stargazing Live shows that science is not just about a few people in lab coats doing work, but that science is everywhere and we can all get involved.”

A high school educational program, produced by Dr Tucker and the ANU, was live streamed nationally before and after the ABC’s broadcasts.

In last year’s Stargazing initiative, Australian amateur astronomers were asked to help in the hunt for the so-called Planet 9, believed to be a hard-to-find ninth planet in our Solar System.

The public was asked to find new stars or planets as part of the simultaneous stargazing. media_cameraThe public was asked to find new stars or planets as part of the simultaneous stargazing.

GLOSSARY

citizen-scientists: everyday people who collect scientific data

simultaneous: at the same time

scheduled: planned for a particular time

astronomy: the science of space, stars and the universe

astrophysics: a part of astronomy concerned with the physical nature of stars and other space bodies.

LISTEN TO TODAY’S STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES

1. Event poster

Create an event poster with information about the next stargazing world record attempt to let people know about it and entice them to become involved next time. Your poster needs to look great with relevant images, as well as tell people what is happening, when, where and how to be a part of it. You can make up the dates, time and locations as they haven’t been set for the next event in coming years.

Extension: Make a list of items you think might be useful or nice to have at a stargazing party.

Time: Allow 40 minutes

Curriculum links: English

2. What’s out there?

Spend 10 minutes, on your own to brainstorm a list of things that can be found in space and write a one sentence definition of each thing on your list.

Spend 10 minutes, with a partner to compare lists. Add anything your partner had on their list that you did not. Clarify any differences in your definitions.

Extra resources: Space themed non-fiction books will be helpful for students with limited background knowledge.

Extension: Do you think there could be human-like creatures somewhere else in the universe? Explain your thinking.

Time: Allow 20 minutes

Curriculum links: English, Science

VCOP ACTIVITY

After reading the article, with a partner, highlight all the openers you can find in blue. Discuss if they are powerful and varied openers or not. Why do you think the journalists has used a mix of simple and power openers? Would you change any, and why?

IN ONE SENTENCE, TELL US WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT THIS STORY

Please do not use one-word answers. Explain what you enjoyed or found interesting about the article. Use lots of adjectives.

Extra Reading in space