Amateur astronomer Alan Craggs found a star that exploded 970million years ago
Alan Craggs reported the supernova, which predates the era of dinosaurs on Earth, to the scientists at the Australian National University (ANU) and is now among the select few who have discovered an exploding star.
The father-of-five said he has always had an interest in astronomy but was amazed to have gone down in “space history”.
Mr Craggs, 64, a retired oil worker from New Deer, Aberdeenshire, is among hundreds of volunteers taking part in the Zooniverse Sighting Project.
These citizen scientists inspect online images of the night sky taken by the SkyMapper Telescope in Australia and report anything unusual to the researchers.
I’ve always been interested in the stars and space, ever since I was able to look up at the sky at night
"I’ve always been interested in the stars and space, ever since I was able to look up at the sky at night," said Mr Craggs.
"It is one thing to stargaze using a telescope and spot the moons of Jupiter or various constellations. But what we were doing was analysing images taken of the skies around the world at various intervals.
"These sort of discoveries are far and few between so it was pretty amazing to receive an email naming me as one of the volunteers credited for the find.
Amazing Hubble Space Images Mon, March 27, 2017
These stunning images from the Hubble Space Telescope are taken from the April 2015 issue of National Geographic Magazine.
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Bubble Nebula, also known as NGC 7653, which is an emission nebula located 11 000 light-years away
"I’ve done some university modules on astronomy and am currently doing an honours degree at the University of Central Lancashire for astronomy and also watch all the TV shows related to the subject and that’s how I found about the project."
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The type Ia supernova, named SN2017dxh, was captured by the SkyMapper Transient Survey, a comprehensive digital survey of the entire southern hemisphere sky.
The first three volunteers to find a previously unknown explosion are named in the report to the International Astronomical union.
Supernovae which can have “explosions as bright as 100 million billion billion billion lighting bolts” are used to measure the age and size of the universe but type Ia is a relatively rare find.
It occurs in binary systems where two stars, one of them a white dwarf, orbit one another.
The white dwarf’s gravity pulls mass from the bigger star leading to its violent death. The subsequent explosion can shine very brightly for weeks before fading away for good.
By comparing older and newer images eagle-eyed star gazers can spot transient events, which also include passing asteroids, comets and so on.
Alan Craggs, 64, is a retired oil worker from New Deer, Aberdeenshire
Mr Craggs said: “I have submitted other potential finds but have yet to hear whether they were supernovae
“It is a fantastic opportunity for amateurs to get involved and a nice feel to have your name go down in space history.”
Dr Brad Tucker, co-lead researcher at the ANU, said more than 700 supernovae hunters have taken part in the project and said without their help the previously unknown exploding star might have gone unnoticed.
He added: “The supernova is about 970 million light years away, meaning it exploded before the dinosaurs were even on the Earth.
“This is the exact type of supernovae we are looking for – type Ia supernova – to measure properties of and distances across the Universe.
“We are tracking 18 other possible exploding stars.”
His colleague, Dr Anais Möller, added: “Supernovae have boring names. We are recognising volunteers by listing the first three people to find a previously unknown supernova in the discovery when we report it to the International Astronomical Union.”