How star-gazing helped scientists solve a centuries-old mystery


A vivid new star appeared within the sky in June, 1670. It was seen by the Carthusian monk Père Dom Anthelme in Dijon, France, and astronomer Johannes Hevelius in Gdansk, Poland. Over the subsequent few months, it slowly pale to invisibility.

However in March 1671, it reappeared – now much more luminous and among the many 100 brightest stars within the sky. Once more it pale, and by the top of the summer season it was gone.

Then in 1672, it put in a 3rd look, now solely barely seen to the bare eye. After a couple of months it was gone once more and hasn’t been seen since.

This has all the time gave the impression to be an odd occasion. For hundreds of years, astronomers regarded it because the oldest known nova – a kind of star explosion. However this rationalization turned untenable within the 20th century.

A nova is a reasonably frequent occasion, when hydrogen ignites in an in any other case extinct star inflicting a thermonuclear runaway response. Stars may also explode as supernovae, following an implosion of their core. Nevertheless, we all know now that neither would give the form of repeated look seen on this occasion.

So what was it? Our new analysis, printed within the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, affords a complete new rationalization.

In 1982, the American astronomer Mike Shara discovered a nebula – an interstellar cloud of mud, hydrogen, helium and different gases – on the place of the lacking star, which had since acquired the identify CK Vul in between.

This proved that one thing had certainly occurred right here. Astronomers later famous that the nebula was increasing, and that the enlargement had began round 300 years in the past. However the star itself couldn’t be seen.