A small speck in the sky; but a giant find for insurance man

To Stephen Laurie the tiny speck in the sky 100 million light years away meant big news. For the amateur astronomer realised, as he monitored his computer-controlled telescope, that he had discovered a supernova, or exploding star, in the constellation Draco.

When he did, just before midnight last Monday, he immediately sent an electronic message to the International Astronomical Union in Harvard - which confirmed by the morning that he was the first in the world to spot it, beating the professionals and becoming only the second Briton ever to discover such an event.

Mr Laurie, 38, an actuary from Church Stretton, Shropshire, had spent just six weeks using the pounds 3,500, 10in telescope on his patio, linked to a pounds 2,000 device which contains photoelectric sensors capable of picking up light far fainter than the human eye can discern. That data was passed for processing to a computer inside, then to another computer, which compared the images with earlier ones. And in one, there was a significantly brighter spot - the supernova.

"It's known as a 1A type - a double star system in which they orbit each other, and the bigger star had accreted more mass from the smaller one." Then, the star reached a critical mass and exploded into light. Supernovae are rare and unpredictable: professional astronomers have been known to spend 20 years looking for them without success.

Mr Laurie, a keen astronomer since acquiring his first telescope at the age of 12, had to hide his excitement in order not to disturb his wife, Angela, who was asleep. "I didn't wake her up, but told her the next morning," he said. "I was very lucky to find a supernova so quickly. It's a bit like winning the lottery."

But his patience has paid off before: he has already discovered 50 asteroids.

He was inspired to hunt supernovae after fellow amateur Mark Armstrong became the first British astronomer - amateur or professional - to discover an exploding star last October.

He programmed his telescope to scour the heavens systematically, focusing on up to 60 galaxies an hour. The supernova stood out as a white dot in galaxy NGC 3147, which he realised was missing from an earlier image of the same galaxy.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee