California Undergrad Makes Astronomy Breakthrough

No term exists for Michael Sandoval's stellar discovery

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted May 26, 2014 8:38 AM CDT

(Newser) – At just 21 years old, a California college student has made an incredible discovery: Michael Sandoval and his astrophysics professor at San Jose State have spotted what they believe is one galaxy that was swallowed up by another. The result is a dense system of stars—apparently the densest ever found. They're calling it a "hypercompact cluster," since no word for the object currently exists, the San Jose Mercury News reports. The finding occurred as Sandoval took the first course he'd ever taken on the subject, NBC Bay Area reports.

"Some people take years and never find" such space phenomena, says astrophysics professor Aaron Romanowsky. Sandoval took about a week to find it, inspired by the work of a classmate who'd found what had previously appeared to be the densest known bunch of stars. To make the story even more impressive, Sandoval's find came as he grieved for his mother, who died in October. He'd been living at home in recent years to take care of her during an illness, sometimes having to take her to the ER before heading to class the next day. "I didn't want to be sitting home, feeling sorry for myself," Sandoval says. "That's not what she would have wanted, anyway." (Another recent space discovery involves an ancient space collision.)

This stock photo shows a dense swarm of stars.
This stock photo shows a dense swarm of stars.   (AP Photo/NASA-ESA)
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