Saturday, October 23, 2021

Brazil’s 8-year-old asteroid hunter is officially the world’s youngest astronomer

When Nicole Oliveira was just learning to walk, she would raise her arms to reach for the stars in the sky.

Today, at just eight years old, the Brazilian girl is touted as the world’s youngest astronomer, exploring asteroids as part of a NASA affiliate program, attending international seminars. and is meeting with top space and science figures from across the country.

In Oliveira’s room, filled with solar system posters, miniature rockets and Star Wars figures, Nicolinha, as she is affectionately known, studies images of the sky on two large screens on her computer.

The project, named Asteroid Hunters, aims to introduce young people to science and give them a chance to explore themselves in space.

It is run by the International Astronomical Exploration Cooperation, a citizen science program affiliated with NASA, in partnership with the Brazilian Ministry of Science.

Nicolinha proudly told AFP that he had already found 18 asteroids.

“I’ll give them names of Brazilian scientists, or members of my family, like my mom or my dad,” said the lively girl with dark brown hair and a loud voice.

If her findings are substantiated, which could take several years, Oliveira will officially become the youngest person in the world to discover an asteroid, breaking the record held by 18-year-old Italian Luigi Sanino.

“She actually has one eye,” said Heliomargio Rodrigues Moreira, Oliveira’s astronomy teacher at a private school in the city. She immediately sees the dots in the images that look like asteroids and often advises her classmates to see them. Not sure they actually found any.” Fortaleza in northeastern Brazil, which she is attending thanks to a scholarship.

“The most important thing is that she shares her knowledge with other children. She contributes to the spread of science,” said Rodrigues Moreira.

Nicole Oliveira works on her computer at her home in Fortaleza, Brazil. (Jerbas Oliveira/AFP)

passion for astronomy

Earlier this year, Nicolinha’s family relocated to Fortaleza, about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from their hometown of Maceo, after Nicolinha received a scholarship to attend the prestigious school. Her father, a computer scientist, was allowed to keep his job and telework.

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“When she was two, she would raise her arms to the sky and ask me, ‘Mom, give me a star,'” her mother, 43-year-old Zilma Janka, who works in the craft industry, said. said.

Janka said, “We understood that this passion for astronomy was serious when she asked us for a telescope as a birthday gift when she turned four. I really didn’t even know what a telescope was. Is.”

Nicolinha was so ready to pick up the binoculars that she told her parents that she would change it for all of their future birthday parties. Still, such a gift was too expensive for the family and the girl got it only when she turned 7 and all her friends deposited money for the purchase, her mother said.

As she continued her studies, Nicolinha enrolled in an astronomy course for students to lower her age limit to 12.

On his YouTube channel, Nicolinha interviews influential figures such as Brazilian astronomer Duilia de Mello, who participated in the discovery of a supernova named SN 1997D.

Last year, Oliveira traveled to Brasilia to meet the science minister as well as astronaut Marcos Pontes, the only Brazilian to have ever traveled to space.

For her own ambitions, Nicolinha wants to become an aerospace engineer.

“I want to build rockets. I’d love to visit NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to see their rockets,” she said.

“I also want all children in Brazil to have access to science,” she says.

© Agence France-Presse


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