When Nicole Oliveira was a child, she fled her arms up in the air and reached for the stars. Now, this eight-year-old Brazilian girl has achieved the title of world’s youngest astronomer after seeking asteroids as part of a NASA-sponsored project, attending international seminars, and meeting with her country’s top space and science leaders.
The International Astronomical Search Partnership, a NASA-affiliated citizen science program, leads the project ‘Asteroid Hunters’ in collaboration with Brazil’s science ministry. The project’s goal is to introduce young people to science by allowing them to make their personal space discoveries.
Nicole said that she had discovered 18 asteroids thus far. “I’ll give them the names of Brazilian scientists or members of my family, like my mom or dad,” she added.
Oliveira might become the world’s youngest person to discover an asteroid after her results are validated, breaking the record of 18-year-old Italian Luigi Sannino.
“She really has an eye. She immediately spots points in the images that look like asteroids and often advises her classmates when they are not sure they have really found any,” said Heliomarzio Rodrigues Moreira, Oliveira’s astronomy teacher.
“The most important thing is that she shares her knowledge with other children. She contributes to the dissemination of science,” added Rodrigues Moreira.
“When she was two, she would raise her arms to the sky and ask me, ‘Mom, give me a star,’ Zilma Janaca, Oliveira’s mother, stated.
“We understood that this passion for astronomy was serious when she asked us for a telescope as a birthday present when she turned four. I didn’t even really know what a telescope was,” Janaca added.
Oliveira was so eager to get a telescope that she told her parents she’d trade it for all her future birthday celebrations. However, such a gift was too extravagant for the family, and the girl received it when she turned seven. Her mother says that all of her friends contributed to the purchase.
Nicole has interviewed prominent personalities on her YouTube channel, including Brazilian astronomer Duilia de Mello, who was instrumental in the finding of SN 1997D, a supernova.
Oliveira met Brazil’s lone astronaut, Marcos Pontes, and the minister of science last year.
Speaking of Nicole’s personal interests, she aspires to be an aerospace engineer. “I want to build rockets. I would love to go to the Kennedy Space Center at NASA in Florida to see their rockets,” she added.
“I would also like all children in Brazil to have access to science,” she says.