Friday, November 4, 2011

Telescope solves ancient historical mystery, 10.28.11

Astronomers recently used NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to unravel a 2,000 year old mystery. In 185 A.D., Chinese sky watchers made note of something they noticed in the sky. They called it a “guest star” at the time, and continued to make notation of its visibility for about the next 8 months. Astronomers had had ideas about what the object could have been, but now using the power of science, they can peer into the depths of space in the area the Chinese had noted and see what may be left over from this mysterious “guest star.” Their findings? A supernova.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA.
This particular supernova is a Type 1a supernova. Supernovae happen when a star dies, either by imploding in on itself as its core collapses, creating a black hole, or bursting outward, as was the case with this supernova. However, scientists who had observed it before had been puzzled because the debris left over is far larger and more spread out than a supernova of that age should be.

With more observation they discovered the star actually exploded inside of some sort of shell of open space. This allowed the material that was ejected from the star as it exploded to travel unimpeded for great distances, much further than it would have traveled before. At any rate, it is an impressive sight. We can only wonder what the Chinese would have said about their “guest star” all those years ago if they could have seen it up close.

Credit: NASA.

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