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

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

Now, at just eight years old, the Brazilian is known as the world’s youngest astronomer, researching asteroids through a NASA-affiliated program, attending international seminars and meeting top personalities. space and scientists of his country.

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

The project, called Asteroid hunters, aims to introduce young people to science by giving them the chance to make their own space discoveries.

It is managed by the International astronomical research collaboration, a citizen science program affiliated with NASA, in partnership with the Brazilian Ministry of Science.

Radiant with pride, Nicolinha told AFP that she had already found 18 asteroids.

“I’m going to give them the names of Brazilian scientists, or members of my family, like my mother or my father,” said the lively young girl with dark brown hair and a high-pitched voice.

If his findings are certified, which may take several years, Oliveira will become the youngest person in the world to officially discover an asteroid, breaking the record of 18-year-old Italian Luigi Sannino.

“She really has an eye. She immediately spots spots in the images that look like asteroids and often advises her classmates when they’re not sure they’ve actually found any,” said Heliomarzio Rodrigues Moreira, professor of Astronomy of Oliveira in a private school in the city. from Fortaleza in northeastern Brazil, which she attends thanks to a scholarship.

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

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

Passion for astronomy

Nicolinha’s family moved to Fortaleza from her hometown of Maceio, around 1,000 kilometers (620 miles), earlier this year, after Nicolinha received a scholarship to attend the prestigious school. His father, a computer scientist, was allowed to keep his job and telecommute.

“When she was two, she would raise her arms to the sky and ask me: ‘Mom, give me a star,’ says her mother, Zilma Janaca, 43, who works in the craft industry.

“We understood that this passion for astronomy was serious when she asked us for a telescope as a birthday present when she was four years old. I didn’t even really know what a telescope was,” Janaca added.

Nicolinha was so determined to buy a telescope that she told her parents she would trade it in for all of her future birthday parties. Yet such a gift was too expensive for the family, and the girl did not receive it until she was 7, and all of her friends pooled money for the purchase, her mother said.

While continuing her studies, Nicolinha enrolled in an astronomy course which had to lower her age limit for 12-year-old students.

On his YouTube channel, Nicolinha interviewed influential figures such as Brazilian astronomer Duilia de Mello, who was involved in the discovery of a supernova called SN 1997D.

Last year, Oliveira traveled to Brasilia to meet the Minister of Science as well as astronaut Marcos Pontes, the only Brazilian to date to have been in space.

As for her own ambitions, Nicolinha wishes to become an aerospace engineer.

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

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

© Agence France Presse

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