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Thursday, March 30, 2023

How 8-year-old Nicole Oliveira became world’s youngest astronomer

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Nicole Oliveira, from Brazil wanted her mother to give her a star from the sky when she was just learning to walk.

Today, she is known as the world’s youngest astronomer, searching for asteroids as part of a NASA-affiliated programme, attending international seminars, and meeting with her country’s top space and science experts at the age of eight.

The room of Nicole, who is lovingly known as Nicolinha, is decorated with posters of the Solar System, miniature rockets, and Star Wars figures.

The Asteroid Hunters project is aimed at introducing young people to science. The project offers them the opportunity to make their own space discoveries.

It is managed by the International Astronomical Search Collaboration, a NASA-affiliated citizen science programme, in collaboration with Brazil’s Ministry of Science.

Nicolinha, beaming with pride, stated that she has already discovered 18 asteroids.

“I’ll name them after Brazilian researchers or members of my family, like my mother of father,” said the energetic girl with dark brown hair and a high-pitched voice.

Nicole Oliveira’s family moved to Fortaleza from their birthplace of Maceio at the start of this year, when she was awarded a scholarship. Her father, a computer scientist, was permitted to keep his career and work from home.

Nicolinha’s 43-year-old mother, Zilma Janaca, stated, “We realised her interest in astronomy was serious when she asked for a telescope as a birthday present when she was four. I wasn’t even sure what a telescope was.”

Nicolinha was very determined to acquire a telescope. And so she told her parents she would exchange it for all of her future birthday celebrations.

Nicolinha continued her studies by enrolling in an astronomy course. She has interviewed prominent personalities on her YouTube channel, including Brazilian astronomer Duilia de Mello, who was involved in the identification of a supernova known as SN 1997D.

If her results are confirmed, which might take several years, Oliveira will be the world’s youngest person to detect an asteroid, shattering the record held by 18-year-old Italian Luigi Sannino.

Heliomarzio Rodrigues Moreira is Oliveira’s astronomy instructor at a private school in the northeastern Brazilian city of Fortaleza, where she is receiving a scholarship.

Moreira stated, “She has a keen eye and easily recognises asteroids in the photographs. She frequently advises her students when they are unsure if they have discovered any asteroid. The most significant aspect is that she shares her expertise with other kids. She helps to spread scientific knowledge.”

Speaking about her personal goals, Nicolinha said she aspires to be an aerospace engineer, after becoming the youngest astronomer in the world.

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