Supernova Spotting Volunteer Gabrielle Stewart Makes a Rare Discovery

  • Astronomy / Annie McShane / September 14, 2022

  • Volunteers at Chabot Space & Science Center do incredible things. They assist educators in workshops to inspire students, run scientific demonstrations to educate visitors and donate their time every Friday and Saturday night to offer free telescope viewing to the public. 

    One rockstar Chabot Observation Deck volunteer and UC Berkeley student is Gabrielle Stewart, who has discovered more than 450 supernovae since February! She recently made a particularly rare find on August 1.


    Finding Supernova SN Zwicky

    In the constellation Ophiuchus (the Serpent Bearer), a Type 1a supernova awaited its discovery. With a magnitude of around 19, it wasn’t visible to the naked eye. You’d need a powerful telescope to see it, like the 36-inch reflector on Chabot’s Observatory Deck. For Stewart, this exploding star jumped off the page in photos from the 48-inch telescope at Palomar Observatory near San Diego. 

    What makes this discovery so unique is the fact that this supernova’s brightness is enhanced by gravitational lensing –where a massive object, like a galaxy, has bent the light on its long-distance journey to Earth. Similar to what a lens would do, this effect has made the supernova appear brighter than it normally would. This is only the third such object ever discovered, and the first in six years   


    As Seen By Hubble

    A team of astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope was able to capture a picture of the supernova. The lensing is what creates an image that appears to be four objects. Now officially designated SN Zwicky, around these parts, we’ll refer to this discovery as Gabby’s Supernova. 


    Volunteer At Chabot

    Join a dynamic team dedicated to creating a fun and interactive science experience. No science or astronomy background needed, just a willingness to inspire and educate visitors of all ages about our Planet Earth and the Universe. If you are comfortable interacting with the public, enjoy engaging children and adults, and have 8 hours of your time to give per month, consider becoming a volunteer at Chabot Space & Science Center.  

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