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Nicolinha : An 8-year-old Space Ranger

Nicolinha is a celebrity in Brazil because at her age she has been able to detect 18 new asteroids within a training program supported by NASA

When Nicole Oliveira began to take her first steps, she extended her arms to the sky, trying to catch the stars. Now, at just eight years old, this Brazilian has become a seasoned astronomer on the hunt for asteroids. “I have already found 18!”, Highlights the girl with brown hair and eyes, without her sharp childish voice hiding the pride that she feels for it.

On the walls of her room, in her house in Fortaleza, instead of posters of famous singers, there is a map of the solar system and, on a shelf, a blonde doll that seems lost among miniature rockets and ‘Star Wars’ dolls. ‘.

Nicolinha, as she is affectionately nicknamed, uses her computer with two large screens installed near her bed to scrutinize images of the sky sent by the ‘Asteroid Hunter’ program. This project, which seeks to introduce young people to science by directly involving them in discoveries, is the result of an alliance between the Brazilian Ministry of Science and an organization affiliated with NASA.

If one day her discoveries are approved, something that may take years, Nicolinha would become the youngest person in the world to officially discover an asteroid, smashing the record of Italian Luigi Sannino, 18, reports AFP. She then she will be able to baptize the finds of it. “I want to name them after Brazilian scientists and relatives,” like her mother or her father, she explains.

“She has lynx eyesight,” says Heliomarzio Rodrigues Moreira, her astronomy teacher at school, where she has been going since the beginning of the year. “It also clears up the rest of the students about whether or not it can be an asteroid,” says the teacher, noting that her student “teaches other children” and also “has become a great popularizer of astronomy.” In fact, Nicolinha is quite a bit of a celebrity, especially in her country, thanks to her astronomy videos on her YouTube channel and her online participation in international scientific seminars.

In January, her family did not hesitate to move from Maceió to Fortaleza (1,000 kilometers away) so that the little girl could benefit from a scholarship at a prestigious institution. Her father, a computer scientist, was able to keep his job because his bosses accepted that he telecommute. Her mother makes dolls.

Your precious telescope
“We only understood that her passion for astronomy was serious when she asked us for a telescope as a birthday present. A 4-year-old girl can hardly pronounce the word telescope, but she said: I want a telescope », relates her mother.

Her precocity led the organizers of introductory astronomy courses to change the minimum age for enrollment, reserved for those over 12 years of age. She is clear about her ambitions. “My dream is to be an aerospace engineer and build rockets. I’d love to visit the NASA complex in Florida to see the rockets,” she added.

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