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A photo of a supernova

A Locksmith Discovers a Supernova


One man’s passion led him to seek, in the stars, the very meaning of life.

One night in 2016, a locksmith from Rosario, Argentina, closed his business after a day’s work and went to the homemade astronomical observatory he’d installed on the terrace of his home. Víctor Buso directed his telescope to observe NGC 613, a galaxy within the Sculptor Group which turns some 80 million light years from Earth. He chose it because he simply liked its spiral shape. But Buso didn’t know that that night he would witness something which had never been seen before.

Buso also didn’t know that in that distant galaxy, some 80 million years ago, when dinosaurs still inhabited the Earth, a star 33 million of times the size of our sun had exploded and, in the process of its death, grew to become a supernova.

Guided by two stars, Canopus and Achernar, Buso finally located NGC 613. As soon as he did, he began to photograph it every 20 seconds and, when comparing his images with others that had been made by other telescopes, he realized his photographs contained a luminous pixel not present in any of the others. For an ordinary person, such a point might have meant nothing, but Buso knew that tiny point of light was something unusual. He immediately called his fellow observer, Gastón Folatelli, and together they gave notice to the International Astronomical Union.

The scientific community learned of it quickly, and soon the world’s most powerful telescopes were trained on the galaxy. What Buso had captured was the birth of a supernova, something that until then had existed only in theory and had never been witnessed. It was at the exact moment of the death of the gigantic star, called its flash.

To think that the death of a star happened so many millions of years ago and that, while the light of the explosion traveled through space to reach our own Solar System, on Earth had passed multiple geological eras, is simply overwhelming. But to think that Buso, a locksmith who lives in Rosario, on a night in 2016, trained his home telescope at that precise moment is equally extraordinary. His is a story of chance and luck, a story of dimension, space, and time. Perhaps it’s also a story of fate and discovery, and, at last, a story of light.


Image: ESA/Hubble

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