STANSBURY PARK — It took Patrick Wiggins nearly 500 days of searching the universe to discover his first supernova in 2014.
On Thursday, the amateur astronomer continued to add to his total, discovering his fourth supernova since he began his quest searching the skies in 2011 and second in 2017 alone.
“It is a time-consuming process but because I am contributing to the body of scientific knowledge, I think it’s worth it,” he said.
Wiggins’ new discovery was located in the Ursa Major, or the Big Dipper, constellation shortly after 3:40 a.m., according to the Salt Lake Astronomical Society, of which Wiggins is a member of. The constellation is estimated to be about 85 million light-years away from Earth and appeared as a small smudge on the screen of the electronic images he takes.
“When I first saw it, I thought it was an error,” Wiggins said, which he said happens from time to time in taking imagines, “and so I ignored it. But there was a little voice in the back of my head that said, ‘Go back and look at that again.' So I did, took several more pictures and the error wouldn’t go away, so it was really there.”
Wiggins reported his discovery to professional astronomers in California and France, who confirmed the supernova’s existence.
Though discovering supernovae isn’t exactly uncommon, Wiggins said about a dozen are spotted each day, it is rarer that they are discovered by amateurs. Supernovae discovered by amateurs are typically the brighter ones because professional cameras are much more likely to capture darker images.
The supernova he discovered last week wasn’t as bright as one he found in May. Wiggins chalked it up to luck that he beat a professional to find it first.
He adds the discovery may seem uninteresting to the common person, but the amateur astronomer lights up when he thinks of the possibilities his discovery could lead to. He believes some scientist studying supernovae may find his latest discovery important sometime in the future.
On top of that, there’s a thrill Wiggins finds in being the first to find something in the universe.
“It’s fun,” he said, “because there for a couple of hours, I was the only person in human history that had ever seen this thing. Now professional telescopes around the world are looking at it.”
Contributing: Paul Nelson