Making your own astronomical discovery

Making an astronomical discovery is an extremely rewarding experience.

Just ask10 year-old Kathryn Aurora Gray from Fredericton, NB, who last month, was the youngest person in history to discover an exploding star called a supernova in a far away galaxy.

The extremely faint supernova at magnitude 17 in galaxy UGC 3378 is about 240 million light years away. Some people have spent years to find something like this. Amazingly, she found it on her first few attempts.

From the comfort of your home, you too could make a discovery that might revolutionize astronomy.

As telescopes advance, astronomers can see deeper into the universe making new discoveries on a regular basis. But there is one problem.

The deeper they look the more images they collect that need to be analyzed by human eyes. In fact, there is now too many images for them to handle by themselves so they’re asking for the public to help.

Astronomers have joined forces to form Zooniverse at, which combines a number of projects where everyone is encouraged to participate.

Projects include; Galaxy Zoo Hubble, Galaxy Zoo The Hunt for Supernovae, Galaxy Zoo Understanding Cosmic Mergers,, The Milky Way Project, Moon Zoo, Old Weather and Solar Stormwatch. More are on the way.

There is no shortage of work since there are hundreds of thousands of images that need to be analyzed. One word of warning though, it can be extremely addictive.

Enlisting the public to help make discoveries is not new to astronomy. For centuries, amateurs have made significant contributions to help advance astronomy.

In fact, without amateurs, astronomy would still be in the dark ages. For instance, maps of the lunar surface created by amateur astronomer Patrick Moore helped land spacecraft on the moon during the 60s.

Here are some important events for February stargazers. Most are listed in the Hamilton Amateur Astronomers calendar.

Orion the hunter is the prominent winter constellations that can be seen this month. There are four corners to the constellation. Look for stars Betelgeuse that make up Orion’s left shoulder and move clockwise to Bellatrix, Rigel and Orionis. The three stars that make up Orion’s belt from upper right are Mintaka, Alnilam and Anitak.

The constellation is full of astronomical wonders such as the Horse Head Nebulae, Betelgeuse a variable star and Mintaka a double star.

This month, you can see Venus and Mercury in the south east morning sky during twilight. Mercury will be visible low in the sky early in the month.

Jupiter will be seen in the south west during evening twilight setting around 8 p.m. and Saturn rises in the south east around midnight. Uranus is low in the south west sky during evening twilight.

Feb. 2 – New moon

Feb. 6 – The moon is at apogee or furthest from the Earth at 405,923 km

Feb. 10 – First quarter moon

Feb. 11 – Hamilton Amateur Astronomers meeting at 7:30 p.m., Hamilton Spectator building, 44 Frid St., Hamilton. University of Waterloo optometry professor Dr. Ralph Chou will discuss the aging eye and observing. Free admission with door prizes. Non-perishable food items will be collected for local food banks.

Feb. 18 – The full moon this month is called the Snow Moon.

Feb. 19 – The moon is at perigee or closest to the Earth at 358,246 km

Feb. 24 – Last quarter moon

For more information, please see the Hamilton Amateur Astronomers web site at or call (905) 627-4323.

Mario Car, the author of the report, is the director of public education, Hamilton Amateur Astronomers.  He can be reached at

This monthly feature was published in The Hamilton Mountain News, the Burlington Post, The Flamborough Review and the Sachem. If you would like to carry this feature, please email me at


About Mario Carr

Mario Carr has a Physics degree from McMaster University and hosts this blog. He is the director of publicity for the Hamilton Amateur Astronomers and has helped to raise the profile of the group. He writes an astronomy column and appeared on CHCH-TV to talk about the night sky. Mario is the founder of the Carr Marketing Group in Burlington, Ontario and can help with your marketing, communications, publicity and public relations needs. He can be reached at or
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