Sunday, December 7, 2008

Tycho's Supernova Identified

After over 400 years Tycho Brahe's new star in Cassiopeia has been identified as a "thermonuclear explosion of a white dwarf star with a nearby companion""

The research, which analyzed a "light echo" from the long-ago event, is presented in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature by scientists in Germany, Japan and the Netherlands.

The story of what's commonly called Tycho's supernova began on Nov. 11, 1572, when Brahe was astonished to see what he thought was a brilliant new star in the constellation Cassiopeia. The light eventually became as bright as Venus and could be seen for two weeks in broad daylight. After 16 months, it disappeared.

Working before telescopes were invented, Brahe documented with precision that unlike the moon and the planets, the light's position didn't move in relation to the stars. That meant it lay far beyond the moon. That was a shock to the contemporary view that the distant heavens were perfect and unchanging.

The event inspired Brahe to commit himself further to studying the stars, launching a career of meticulous observations that helped lay the foundations of early modern astronomy, said Michael Shank, a professor of the history of science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

It is nothing short of astonishing that such a discovery could be made without the aid of telescopes.

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