Eight-year-old Brazilian Nicolina… an asteroid hunter

Eight-year-old Brazilian Nicolina… an asteroid hunter
Eight-year-old Brazilian Nicolina… an asteroid hunter

© Jarbas OliveiraA picture taken on September 21, 2021 in the Brazilian city of Fortaleza of Nicoli Oliveira with her telescope

Nicoli Oliveira was reaching out to the sky to catch the stars as she took her first steps, and this little Brazilian girl, eight years old, became an accomplished asteroid-hunting astronomer.

On the walls of her room in Fortaleza (northeast Brazil), there are no pictures of music stars, but a large map of the solar system. On one shelf, a blonde doll appears lost between miniature rockets and Star Wars characters.

But the field in which she fishes is a computer with two large screens placed near her bed. Through them, a girl affectionately named Nicolina monitors images of the sky sent by the Asteroid Hunters.

This project aims to introduce young people to science by directly involving them in discoveries, and is the fruit of a partnership between the Brazilian Ministry of Science and the International Cooperation Organization for Astronomical Research of the US Space Agency “NASA”.

© Jarbas OliveiraA photo taken on September 21, 2021 in the Brazilian city of Fortaleza, of Nicoli Oliveira, spotting asteroids on a computer.

“I’ve found 18 so far!” the little girl with long dark brown hair tells AFP proudly.

– knowledge sharing –

If Nicoli’s findings are confirmed, which may take years, she will become the youngest person in the world to officially discover an asteroid, and she will be able to break the record set by Italian Luigi Sannino, who discovered an asteroid at the age of eighteen.

Then it has the right to call the asteroids the names it wants. “I will give her the names of Brazilian scientists, or members of my family, such as my mother or father,” she says.

And the professor of astronomy at the school she has attended since the beginning of this year, Eleumarcio Rodríguez Moreira, confirms that she “has an insight” in this field. He notes that she “immediately notices in the images dots that look like asteroids, and often gives her classmates advice when they are not sure they have found any.”

© Jarbas OliveiraPhoto taken on September 21, 2021 in the Brazilian city of Fortaleza of Nicoli Oliveira in her room

He believes that “the most important thing is that she shares her knowledge with other children and thus contributes to the dissemination of science.”

Nicolinia has already made a name for itself thanks to her astronomy videos on YouTube, her online participation in international scientific symposia, and even a family-friendly assistant who helps her answer all requests.

– Trade parties for a telescope –

Last January, her parents did not hesitate to move from Maceio, another city in northeastern Brazil, to Fortaleza, 1,000 kilometers away, to enable their daughter to benefit from a scholarship at a prestigious institution. Her father’s computer company agreed that he would continue to work remotely.

“When she was two years old, she would raise her arms to the sky and say ‘Mom, give me a star’,” said her mother, Zelma Janaka, 43, who works in the handicraft industry.

“But we realized this passion for astronomy was serious when she asked us for a telescope as a gift for her fourth birthday. I didn’t even know what a telescope was.”

“She even told us she was willing to trade all her birthday parties for a telescope, but it was still too expensive for us. We couldn’t buy it for her until she was seven, thanks to the help of friends,” the mother continues.

Faced with Nicolinia’s early talent, the organizers of astronomy classes did not hesitate to lower the minimum age for registration in these courses, which are often reserved for those over twelve.

On her YouTube channel, Nicoli interviewed a number of personalities, such as the famous astronomer Doulia de Mello, who participated in important discoveries such as the supernova (SN 1997D).

And last year, I went to Brasilia to meet with the Minister of Science and former astronaut Marcos Pontes, the only Brazilian to have traveled to space to date.

But Nicholas has other ambitions. “My dream is to become an aerospace engineer,” she says. “I want to make rockets. I would love to go to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, to see their rockets.”

“I would also like science to be accessible to all children in Brazil,” she adds.

Jo-lj / b h / m n

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