Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Irish stargazer spots 'supernova' exploding star

'This is the biggest thing ever discovered in Irish astronomy'

Dave Grennan and his wife Carol in an observatory in their back garden in Raheny, north Dublin
Dave Grennan in an observatory in his back garden in Raheny, north Dublin, where the discovery of Supernova 2010IK was made

An enthusiastic stargazer made the biggest discovery ever in Irish amateur astronomy when he spotted a 'supernova' exploding star -- from an observatory in his back garden.

Dave Grennan (39) was just about to retire for the night when he spotted the 290-million-year-old spectacle through his powerful telescope at his home in Raheny, north Dublin.

"I was going to wrap things up and go to bed, and then I thought, 'Dave you don't make discoveries in bed -- at least not those sort of discoveries'," he said.

David Moore, chairman of Astronomy Ireland, said it was an unusual supernova that would have scientists around the world turning billions of euro worth of equipment on to the discovery. "This is the biggest thing ever discovered in Irish astronomy," he said.

Mr Grennan and his wife Carol cracked open some champagne after the supernova was officially confirmed by international astronomy authorities.

"She was more excited about this discovery than I was. She was over the moon," he said.

The software developer, who works for CIE, said he still has not come down off cloud nine since he spotted the significant dot on September 17.

Mr Grennan beat astronomers all over the world who regularly scan the skies hoping to make such a discovery.

He admitted he spends all his spare time on his hobby and has scoured thousands of galaxies over the past 10 years looking for something new.

Examining and re-examining each one, Mr Grennan eventually found the phenomenon which has been given the official designation 'supernova 2010 IK'. While planets can be named, the fleeting supernovae are registered according to the year.

Mr Moore said a nuclear bomb would be smaller than a "gnat hitting the windscreen of a billion juggernauts" compared to the scale of the exploding star. "We could not find words to explain it, I've been waiting for this to happen for decades," he said.

Professor Stephen Smartt of Queen's University Belfast confirmed it was the first supernova to be discovered from Irish soil. The astronomy expert said exploding stars are discovered by "supernova-chasers" almost every day but it was unusual to find one in northern Europe.

The celestial spectacle is expected to remain visible with the use of a powerful telescope for two to three months. Two years ago, Mr Grennan discovered an asteroid -- a minor planet just three metres wide -- and named it after his late mother Catherine Griffin, who encouraged his interest in stars when he was a boy.

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