Astronomer's supernovae world record

A SUFFOLK astronomer has broken a long-standing world record after identifying his 125th exploding star in the far reaches of the universe.

Elliot Furniss

A SUFFOLK astronomer has broken a long-standing world record after identifying his 125th exploding star in the far reaches of the universe.

Tom Boles, 65, runs the Coddenham Observatory, which has three robotically-controlled telescopes that scour the night sky looking for stars that are dying - known as supernovae.

Well-respected Bulgarian-born astronomer Professor Fritz Zwicky had held the record for 36 years after spotting 123 supernovae before his death in 1974 but Mr Boles has now leapt ahead of him after his latest discovery in August.


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He said his state-of-the-art equipment regularly examined a range of 12,000 galaxies across the universe and his long-standing ambition was to find a supernova in or close to our galaxy.

He said: “What's really significant is that Fritz Zwicky was a pioneer - he invented the word 'supernova' and he postulated the existence of a neutron star.

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“If there was a dream, it would be to find a very, very close supernova. We haven't seen a supernova in our galaxy for about 400 years but we would expect one to happen every 50 to 100 years - one is now well overdue.

“The observatory has been running since 1996, first in Wellingborough and then, since 2001, in Coddenham. (Legendary astronomer) Sir Patrick Moore came down and opened it for me.

“Suffolk is perfect for astronomy - there's a lack of cloud cover because the further east you go the less cloud there is. There's also low light pollution here as it's mainly an agricultural area.”

Mr Boles explained that he had worked as a computer and telecommunications engineer before his retirement but had always had a strong passion for astronomy after growing up in the era of the space race.

He said: “I got into it in my school days. I was brought up in the exciting times when the space race was just beginning.

“It's part of human nature - we've always been explorers and very curious and it's that need to explore and discover that makes us such a successful species.”

Supernova can typically be found about 100 million light years away from our sun and by the time the telescopes at the Coddenham observatory identify them, they have long since disappeared.

Mr Bole said he sent many of his findings off to universities around the world in order to help their research.

He added: “The record had stood since 1973. There's no scientific significance (to the latest find) really, it's just the fact that the discovery total has been surpassed.

“The discoveries have been followed up by the Hubble Telescope on several occasions.”

Mr Boles will feature in an upcoming exhibition Explorers of the Universe at the Royal Albert Hall, which looks at 25 of Britain's leading astronomers.

nFor more information about Mr Boles and his discoveries, visit www.coddenhamobservatories.org.

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