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The search for supernovas starts right here in Prince George

Malhar Kendurkar searching for supernovas.

Look up. Look way, way up.

That’s what Malhar Kendurkar does every day. Well, not exactly. He looks into his computer screen. His computer looks at telescopes in places like Spain or Chile. And those telescopes look up … way, way up. To the stars. Or, more accurately, stars that have exploded.

Kendurkar searches the night skies in a quest to find supernovas. He and his team, the Global Supernova Search Team, found 94 last year. They’re hoping to find more this year. They also found gamma ray bursts, which are the most powerful blasts in the universe.

And he does it all from right here in Prince George.

“The location where I work doesn’t really matter,” he said. “We have telescopes in Spain, Chile and France and Prince George.”

Last year he was elected president of the Prince George Astronomical Society and uses the Prince George Observatory for some of his work.

A supernova occurs when a star, like our sun, explodes. There are a couple of different types and are, in the vastness of space, are common occurrences.

“Supernovas explain a lot about our universe and some of the supernovas we’ve studied show that the universe is expanding,” he said. “And some of the chemicals from the supernovas, we can find here on earth.”

However, finding and identifying the supernovas is painstaking and meticulous work.

“Last year, I scanned over 14,000 galaxies and I found 94 supernovas,” he said. “If you want to find one supernova, you have to scan 100 galaxies.”

The scans are compared to previous year’s scans and changes are examined.

“I try to find, basically, a star light,” he said. “Supernovas are, usually, extremely faint so I need a big telescope to see those supernovas and calculate the brightness and the distance.”

Some of them are from 300 million light years away to several billion light years away.

He started searching for supernovas in 2018 and found three that year. Then in 2019 they found 12 and wrote papers on them. The team also found gamma ray bursts, which are the most powerful blasts in the universe.

He is the principal investigator of the Global Supernova Research Team and the other members of are located in India, France, United States, and Spain.

They collaborate with observatories in Spain and Chile and recently started collaborating with Cambridge University.

When Kendurkar does his searching, he actually takes control of the telescopes halfway around the world and can move them to look where he wants to.

The research is used mostly by the scientific community which is doing similar research.

“We try to write papers and then publish them at universities like CalTech or Harvard,” he said.

Looking to the stars has been a lifelong passion for Kendurkar.

“Since I was a kid I was always interested in the night sky,” he said.

After he graduated from high school he started reading about astronomy. His parents eventually bought him a telescope and he was hooked. He started studying comets and published three papers on comets.

“My research interest switched to time domain astronomy, which is what I do now and what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.”

He is currently taking classes at the College of New Caledonia, which has good math classes, he said.

In addition to tracking down supernovas, he’s hoping to track something down that isn’t quite as elusive. He is hoping to secure a research grant to establish six robotic telescopes at 100 Mile House where, which obviously helps, has clearer skies.

And, he’s hoping he can inspire people everywhere to take a closer look at the night sky.

“I want to help the community to look at the sky in a different way to inspire opportunities and advance space exploration from this community,” he said. “I encourage the people of Prince George visit the observatory at West Lake, once the pandemic restrictions are lifted and it re-opens.”

Starting at the end of January, he will be doing online presentations on his work and astronomy, via Zoom, every second Friday.

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