I listen to several different podcasts as I'm commuting to and from work, and when I'm driving around town. Normally I am only half-listening; there's only so many discussions of the economy I can stand before I'm irrecoverably melancholy.
But today, on my way back from taking the recycling in (my apartment complex doesn't recycle anything), I heard something to the effect of, "When you think supernova, do you think early 1970s Chevy, maybe with the carburetor bored out and flames on the front quarter panels? Or do you think white dwarf? If you know enough about this stuff to know that what I just said about the dwarf isn't offensive... stick around." Well, of course I was going to stick around. Supernovae and white dwarfs are my job! I was thinking I might hear the voice of one of my friends on national TV. Wouldn't that be cool?
But I heard something better than one of my friends. I heard an interview with Caroline Moore, a New York teenager who, acting as a citizen scientist, discovered a supernova. And not just any supernova, but a really weird one. I'd read stories of Moore's discovery over the past couple of weeks, but since I was vacationing, I didn't blog about it. I've embedded the interview below.
What I find compelling about this story is not just that a weird supernova was discovered, and not just that it was discovered by a citizen scientist, and not just that it was discovered by a teenager, and not just that the teenager is, unsurprisingly, well-adjusted and not some stereotypical geek. It's the combination of all of these things. It shows that any committed person can contribute important observations to astronomy without having to becoming a hermit who spends every night squirreled away in a remote observatory and every day polishing his next mirror. And it shows that you, too, can help contribute to astronomy, even without training in solving partial differential equations and a knack for general relativity. So, if you have an interest in astronomy, get off your duff and pitch in! We've got the perfect opportunity coming up soon, as well as many, many ongoing efforts.
Way to go, Caroline! Here's hoping that whatever you go on to do in life, you keep looking up. We need the help.