6 December 1999

A real supernova

by Kate Melville

Hats off to a potential new scientific star who personally identified 9 new supernovas (bright, dying stars located billions of light years from Earth).

Alicia Soderberg, a physics and math major from Bates College, Maine, with a team of astrophysisists who are working with the US National Science Foundation. A team of astrophysicists supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) spotted 20 supernovaes.

The project Alicia was working on is designed to provide undergraduates with hands-on research experience. Using the prominent Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope in Hawaii, Alicia identified nine of the 20 new supernovae, including the most distant yet found.

"It's thrilling to shout across the room 'I've got one!' when you spot the first supernova during an observing run," says Soderberg. "No classroom experience could have prepared me for the excitement of doing hands-on astronomy with some of the world's best.".

The team aim is that measuring light from these stars may help determine the change in the rate of expansion of the universe. Their early results indicate that the universe is accelerating, not slowing down.

Perhaps a small step for science but a great achievement by a promising young scientist (we'll watch for more of her work in the future).