t was a Friday night, May 14, when Lorrane Olivlet, a 26-year-old miner, observed four tiny dots, similar to a pixel or a speck of dust, passing through the computer screen. The next day, she was informed by NASA, the American space agency, that she had discovered not just one, but four asteroids wandering through space.
Earlier this year, Lorrane signed up with her study group – InSpace, which she founded – in the IASC (International Astronomic Search Colloraboration), a NASA citizen science program. The objective is to count on the collaboration of amateur scientists from all over the world to make astronomical discoveries and, thus, to optimize the work of the space agency.
“The first contact I had with the IASC was about four years ago, when I heard about a Brazilian woman who participated in the program and discovered some asteroids. Last year, I saw that Brazil had partnered with the project, but when I went research, the registrations had already been closed “, he affirms.
“At the end of that same year, then, I agreed with my group that we would participate and we set up two teams. As soon as the registration was open, we went running to the Nasa website”, he completes.
The students, all from different states and universities, were tasked with remotely finding asteroids using the Astrometrica software. The tool simulates the Solar System and is focused on measurements of smaller stars, such as asteroids, comets and dwarf planets.
To learn how to deal with the software, the youngsters received a brief training and, soon after, they left for the enterprise. The work consisted of analyzing images obtained by the Pan-STARRS satellite, located on Mount Halekala, in Hawaii.
“We had to pay attention to characteristics such as rounded shape, magnitude (apparent brightness) and a straight line. If everything were in agreement, this was an indication that it could be an asteroid”, he says.
“It is not exactly a difficult process, but it requires a lot of dedication and, above all, a close look. There were asteroids that I almost missed. They appear to be tiny, as if they were a pixel in the middle of a completely dark screen”, he adds.
After detecting a possible asteroid, the next step was to produce a report, to be sent to NASA to confirm or discard the discovery. The young woman had many unsuccessful attempts, but did not give up.
Finally, then, on May 15 this year, the news came that Lorrane had been waiting for. As soon as she woke up, still a little sleepy, she found her name and photo exposed on the official channels of the space agency.
“I was very excited. I don’t know if people from outside have the same vision, but for those who like astronomy, it is very interesting. It was a great emotion,” he says. “That same day, I took a photo holding the image of the asteroids and made a post on Twitter. I told a little about the discovery, NASA’s confirmation and I mentioned that in the future, I would have the opportunity to name them.”
The young woman thinks of naming three of the asteroids with the names of the people closest to her: her mother, father and boyfriend. In order to decide the name of the fourth star, she plans to open for popular vote in a poll on social networks.
According to Lorrane, being able to name a celestial body is a great achievement, since the UAI (International Astronomical Union) is quite bureaucratic on this issue. The opportunity is granted to all those who make discoveries through the IASC, as a way to encourage the work of ordinary citizens and amateur astronomers.
It was a children’s book about the Solar System that aroused in the young woman the passion for astronomy, very early, at the age of four. The first more direct contact with the subject, however, occurred in the first semester of college, when he was studying Biomedical Engineering at FUMEC University, in Belo Horizonte, where he graduated.
At the educational institution, Lorrane met the Passport of Astronomy group, in which students, mostly from the Aeronautical Engineering course, met frequently to debate the subject and carry out a series of activities. From this project, InSpace was also born, which made possible the partnership with NASA and the discovery of asteroids.
“When I was in college, I received a lot of messages from people showing interest in participating in some kind of project and saying that in their city they didn’t have it. So, I thought: ‘why not create a group?”, He says.
“Right the first time I launched this idea, more interested than available vacancies arose. I got to do three selective and received constant messages from people wanting to participate”, he completes.
In addition to the two projects, the young woman also has a published book, My First Contact with Heaven , which covers basic concepts of astronomy such as planets, asteroids and others. The objective is to help those who, as the title suggests, want a first contact with this fascinating world.
From the sales, Lorrane hopes to save money to embark on his next adventure: SpaceCamp, a NASA short course to be completed later this year. She also launched an online kit , in which interested parties can contribute any amount.