The sky is like a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re gonna get.
And what amateur astronomer Victor Buso got was the discovery of a lifetime.
On Sept. 20, 2016, Buso was testing a new CCD camera in his homemade observatory.
Pointing his 40-centimeter Newtonian telescope toward spiral galaxy NGC 613, he watched the sky for about 90 minutes, taking 20-second exposures of the star system.
Later, while reviewing his images, Buso noticed something unusual: A pixel near the end of one of the galaxy’s spiral arms was brightening with each subsequent shot.
With the help of fellow stargazer Sebastian Otero, a member of the American Association of Variable Observers (AAVSO), Buso notified international astronomers of the supernova.
Both novices received credit as co-authors of a research article published this week in the journal Nature.
The supernova (SN 2016gkg) is now under intense monitoring by professionals. But hobbyist Buso was key to the process.
“We actually think this is the first time an observer recorded the appearance of a supernova literally on camera,” researcher Melina Bersten told Newsweek.
Some, she explained, have been discovered hours after the explosion. But Buso managed to capture the evolution of a supernova birth.
“Since it is impossible to know where and when a supernova will go off, you’d simply have to be observing the right galaxy at the exact moment that the explosion occurs,” researcher Gastón Folatelli added.
Basically, Buso got lucky that he was in the right place at the right time to photograph what astronomers call the “shock-breakout phase”—when a shockwave traveling from the collapsing core of a star reaches the outer layers and breaks through the surface.
A phase that, until now, was largely theoretical. According to Newsweek, the rare events occur an estimated once per century, per galaxy; even the pros—with their massive telescopes and impressive cameras—can’t spot them.
The stars finally aligned for Buso, who has been playing the cosmic lottery all this life. Nearly a decade ago, the 58-year-old locksmith sold some family land and used the money to build a small observatory on the roof of his home in Rosario, Argentina.
“A lot of the time, you search yourself and you wonder, why do I do this? Why do I deny myself and work so many hours with so much dedication?” he said in an email to Newsweek. “Now I have found the answer.”
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