Brazilian girl, Nicole Oliveira, 8, is known as the world’s youngest astronomer and is searching for asteroids as part of a NASA program and attending international seminars.
In Oliveira’s room, filled with solar system posters, miniature rockets and Star Wars characters, Nicole 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 a chance to make their own space exploration.
It is managed by Astronomical Search Collaboration International, a NASA citizen science program, in partnership with the Brazilian Ministry of Science.
Nicole told AFP proudly that she had already found 18 asteroids.
“I will give her the names of the Brazilian scientists, or members of my family, such as my mother or father,” she continued.
If her findings are approved, which could 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 has a really piercing eye,” said Heliomarzio Rodríguez Moreira, an astronomy teacher for Oliveira at a private school in Fortaleza, northeastern Brazil, which she attends thanks to a scholarship. Pretty sure they’ve found any already.”
Rodriguez Moreira added: “The most important thing is that she shares her knowledge with other children. She contributes to the dissemination of science.”
Nicole’s family moved to Fortaleza from their hometown of Maceio, about 1,000 kilometers away, at the beginning of this year, after being awarded a scholarship to attend the prestigious school. Her father, a computer scientist, was allowed to keep his job and work remotely.
Her mother, Zelma Janaka, 43, who works in the craft industry, said: “When she was two years old, she would raise her arms to the sky and ask me: ‘Mom, give me a star’.”
“We understood that this passion for astronomy was serious when she asked us for a telescope as a birthday present when I was four. I didn’t really know what a telescope was,” Janaka added.
And Nicole was so willing to get a telescope that she told her parents that she would exchange it at all of her future birthday parties. However, this gift was too expensive for the family and the girl didn’t get it until she was seven years old and all her friends raised money to buy it, her mother said.
On her YouTube channel, Nicole interviewed influential figures such as Brazilian astronomer Doulia de Mello, who was involved in the discovery of a supernova called SN 1997D.
Last year, Oliveira traveled to Brasilia to meet with Science Minister and astronaut Marcos Pontes, the only Brazilian to have visited space so far.
For her own ambitions, Nicole wants to become an aeronautical engineer.
“I want to make rockets,” she said. “I’d like to go to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to see their rockets. I also want all the kids in Brazil to have access to science.”