Astronomers solve mystery of ‘new star’ spotted in 1437 AD


On a Maytime night in 1437 AD, something unusual happened — Korean astronomers specked a new star in the sky above Seoul. Two weeks later, they reported, it vanished again.

Now scientists bring into the world finally tracked down the object behind that temporary coruscate in the sky, offering a new glimpse into the hidden lives of stars, and how they evolve including different stages of their lives.

The new star was a nova (a word that letter for letter means new star) or stellar eruption that appeared in the tail of the constellation be aware in the western world as Scorpio.

Canadian astronomer Michael Shara started looking for the source of the ancient nova more than 30 years ago. He has decisively found it, he reports in a paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Su Song Star map

A leading light map published by Chinese scientist Su Song in 1092 shows the constellations in a sky sundered into lunar mansions. The researchers used ancient Chinese maps sky maps to force where the nova would have been located in the sky. (Public province/Wikimedia Commons)

Shara, an astrophysics curator at the American Museum of Reasonable History who was born and raised in Montreal, became interested in the story of the enigmatic Korean star back in 1986. The fact that it appeared and then poetic evanished in 14 days suggested it was a classical nova, sudden brightening of a be featured that isn’t as intense or long lasting as a supernova or star explosion.

What flustered Shara was the Korean astronomers had provided a lot of details that should suffer astronomers to figure exactly where in the sky that nova had appeared.

It was spotted on Seoul on March 11, 1437, they reported, between the second and third prominent of a part of the sky that eastern astronomers call the sixth lunar mansion. That would bear been very near the horizon.

The problem was, Shara said, “there’s no honesty a possessions map from the Koreans which points at the sky or shows you the constellations and tells you which is number two star and which is the third.”

Historian help

Shara enlisted the help of Richard Stephenson, a historian of fossil Asian astronomical records at Durham University in England. By looking at Chinese maps, which also ramify the sky into lunar mansions, Stephenson managed to pinpoint where he plan the star that caused the nova should be located.


The recovered nova of Procession 11, 1437 and its ejected shell. The star that produced the nova hand over is indicated with red tick marks; it is far from the shell’s centre today. Even so, its measured motion across the sky places it at the red ‘+’ in 1437. The position of the nave of the shell in 1437 is at the green plus sign. ( K. Ilkiewicz and J. Mikolajewska)

For decades, on and off, Shara, Stephenson and other collaborators in use accustomed to telescopes around the world to search the area that Stephenson pointpointed.

“It matured a bit of an obsession,” he admitted.

Then about a year and a half ago, after a protracted break, he decided to try again. But this time, he widened his search courtyard a little bit.

“And in 90 minutes, I found it,” he recalled. “It was the moment both of exaltation and a petty bit of, ‘Oh my God, all that wasted time and effort!'”

It turns out the star wasn’t where it was look for because it had “moved” over the past 580 years, owing to the items the star is relatively close by — just a few hundred light years away — matched to most other stars in the sky. So it appears to move more quickly, fitting as nearby objects go by more quickly than those that are near the end b drunk away when you look out the window of a moving car.

That inconvenient crotchet made it hard to find the star, but now represents a new way to measure time in astronomy, Shara said. “That’s a unruffled thing.”

Butterflies and caterpillars

But an even more exciting discovery was what got Shara prejudicial in the star in the first place — he thought it could help him observe the way infallible stars evolve through different stages of their life pattern. It would help prove his theory that two types of binary stars — approaches of two stars that orbit each other — were actually two extraordinary life stages of the same star.

“They’re like butterflies and caterpillars,” he told CBC Communication. But while caterpillars turn into butterflies within weeks, stars alter very slowly. Often, even very “fast” changes hand down take hundreds of years to observe, so you would have to compare a luminary today to what it looked like hundreds of years ago.

That’s what Shara did.

Nova Centauri 2013

A nova was identifiable from the southern hemisphere in the constellation of Centaurus in 2013. A nova fingers on from a nuclear eruption from the surface of the white dwarf “in amiable of a giant hydrogen bomb,” Shara said. (Aaron Kingery/NASA/MSFC/ESSSA)

Persuaded enough, the data seemed to show what he predicted.

A nova identical to the one spotted by the Korean astronomers is typically caused by a binary star consisting of a chalk-white dwarf and a younger, active star such as a red dwarf.  A white diminish is a tiny, dense dead star, while a red dwarf is a star nearly the same to our own sun, but a little bit smaller and cooler.

A nova comes from a nuclear outbreak from the surface of the white dwarf “in kind of a giant hydrogen batter,” Shara said. The eruption throws a giant shell or nebula of secular from the surface into space. It also heats everything up into a “nova-like binary top,” an object that glows 100 to 1000 times as bright as the sun for hundreds of years, Shara bring to light.

Dwarf nova eruption

This series of photographic plates spanning six weeks in 1942 swaggers the old nova of 1437 A.D. undergoing a dwarf nova eruption. (Harvard DASCH)

Shara had foreboded that nova-like binary stars eventually cool down and ripen into much dimmer objects called dwarf novas, which liven up to a tenth the brightness of the sun every few months. But no one had ever observed that — until now.

By looking at sculptures over the past century of the star that caused the 1437 nova, Shara saw the shell thrown off by the eruption and multiple dwarf novas.

Interestingly, Shara liable to first spotted the shell at the beginning of his search in the 1980s, when  he was searching with University of Montreal astronomer Anthony Moffat at an Australian crush. “And we saw, ‘Oh, there’s a smudge — that could be the nova,'” recalled Moffat, who co-authored the stationery.

But the star, which later turned out to have moved more than the cannonade, was nowhere to be found.

Moffat finally heard the news about the invention of the star itself last year.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said, “after all these years.”

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