SITE VISIT: Headquarters for Stars That Go Boom

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Science  18 Sep 1998:
Vol. 281, Issue 5384, pp. 1763d
DOI: 10.1126/science.281.5384.1763d

Amateur astronomers help their professional colleagues by watching out for comets and eclipses. A small but dedicated band also aids in the search for supernovae, the explosive deaths of giant stars. Their work appears at the International Supernovae Network (ISN) Web site—organized by a factory accountant, an insurance agent, and a truck driver who moonlight as supernova sleuths.

With snapshots of new flares of light in distant galaxies and frequently updated tables, the site chronicles the locations, brightnesses, and other details for the 106 supernova discoveries logged so far by amateurs, as well as the dozens per year spotted by professionals. Also featured are blurbs about top amateur hunters—such as record-holder Robert Evans, an Australian minister who with his 16-inch backyard telescope and photographic memory of galaxies has found 36 supernovae to date. Supernova searching, says co-Webmaster Steve Lucas, has “in the past had moments of bittersweet disappointment, when the information of a suspect star could not be confirmed and was lost to the astronomical community.” Thanks to the ISN site, where hints of new objects are shared, many stars no longer blaze out without an obit.

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