Massachusetts Collegians Discover Supernova

The Christian Science Monitor, July 12, 1994 | Go to article overview

Massachusetts Collegians Discover Supernova


LESS than two months after tiny Wheaton College began its supernova search program, a professor and students made an exciting discovery - a brightly burning star that collapsed on itself about 65 million years ago.

The rare supernova was the first discovered by a small college program. Wheaton has 1,300 undergraduates at its campus in Norton, Mass.

Timothy Barker, who founded the program, pinpointed the star. "This star died when the dinosaurs died," Professor Barker says.

With the help of students, Barker spent 10 years preparing for the search project, creating a computer program that would instruct a 14-inch telescope to focus on 1,200 galaxies in sequence, one every 30 seconds.

"The significance is the heroic effort and the great job these guys did," says Carl Pennypacker, co-director of a more sophisticated supernova search at the University of California at Berkeley.

In late May, Barker and his students began spending nights on the roof of the school's science center, looking for dying stars on a TV monitor linked to a light-sensitive camera that looks through the telescope.

If the monitor shows a bright star that's not on the map, they have their first clue to what might be a supernova. …

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