On the search for supernovas

    • Prince George
  • November 22, 2019
A November 2020 update has been included at the bottom of the article.
Malhar 1

Malhar Kendurkar is like many students at CNC. He studies physics and mathematics part time while working as a cook at Nancy O’s. In his spare time, he enjoys strumming his guitar, taking photos and backcountry hiking with friends.

He also happens to work with an international team of astronomers who use telescopes from around the world to discover supernovas and optical counterparts of gravitational waves.

“Prince George has the sixth largest telescope is Canada,” he said. “We actually discovered three novas in the Andromeda Galaxy using the telescope at the Prince George Observatory.”

In 2013, Malhar was studying comets and asteroids in his home country of India. As he spent more time observing the night sky, his research shifted to studying time domain astronomy. That, according to Malhar, is the study of transients, such as supernovas, that flicker in the sky for only a couple weeks or months.

“Studying supernovas can tell us a lot about our universe and how it formed,” he said. “You actually see some chemicals and elements in supernovas on our Earth as well. Some supernovas have predicted that the universe is expanding.”

Hearing about the quality of the physics and mathematics departments at CNC, Malhar moved to Prince George in 2016. He enjoyed the smaller class sizes and the ability to complete his Associates of Science on a part-time basis so he could work and continue his research.  

“I didn’t want to go straight into a university because you’d have hundreds of students in one class,” Malhar said. “The instructors are really good at CNC and always take the time to clarify concepts when we need extra help.”

He still remembers the first time he stepped into the Prince George Observatory on Feb. 21, 2016, at an open house event hosted by the Prince George Astronomical Society. He loved that it was a volunteer observatory that could be used by its members. Malhar joined the society right away and currently serves as president.

"We have wonderful instruments at the observatory,” he said. “Members can actually use the telescope to do science or even take some pictures of the night sky."

In August 2018, Malhar founded a research group called the Global Supernova Search Team that is composed of four astronomers from Canada, USA, France and India. Using seven telescopes from around the world, the team has managed to discover 40 supernovas throughout the past year.

The Global Supernova Search Team is also applying for research grants in an effort to setup six robotic telescopes in B.C. that search for faint astronomical transients in the Northern Hemisphere.

“Those telescopes would be the first in Canada dedicated to searching for supernovas,” he said.

Update (November 2020): The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the work his team was conducting in 2020 as observatories in some countries closed for a few months due to lockdown efforts. Throughout the pandemic, however, Malhar did not stop searching. In fact, he found 87 new supernovae making him the youngest person in Canada to discover that many in less than a year. 

“COVID has made this a strange year for everyone,” he said. “But my goal is to discover at least 100 supernovae before the end of 2020.”

Malhar completes his Associate of Science at CNC in 2020. Following that, he plans to transfer to UBC, TRU or UVIC to complete a Bachelors of Observational Astrophysics and Integrated Masters.

Though he would love to work at UVIC or even be involved in a historic project such as the Thirty Metre Telescope, Malhar has not ruled out a return to northern B.C. 

"Prince George is beautiful,” he said. “I love Prince George. The main reason why I’m still here is because of Prince George."

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