The splendid supernova of 1006 brightened Earth’s skies with brilliant blasts of light. In fact, astronomers the world over were compelled to record it. According to the latest analysis of records kept by Persian Scholar Ibn Sina, we now have inside knowledge of this event.
With four centuries down since Galileo last took to his telescope to investigate the heavens, there has yet to be a supernova seen in our galaxy. However, we behold hundreds annually from significantly greater distances. Though there aren’t many individuals who envy 11th century astronomers, present day astrophysicists actually covet this time when two supernovae appeared so close to Earth in 1006 and 1054 that the shows were spectacularly breathtaking.
These events were actually so intense; they could even be seen in broad daylight. The aftermath of each one left remnants that even modernized telescopes are still able to study extensively. The historical records we have from that time have proved invaluable as they allow astronomers an indication of this event’s vibrancy.
Ancient scholars and historians of China and Japan observed both proceedings, but unfortunately European records have been hard to come by. Despite being as bright as Venus at its very peak, even the supernova of 1054 lacked a single mention or nod by European astronomers. This is one of the myriad of reasons for the nickname of that era in Europe. “An Age is called Dark, not because the light fails to shine, but because people refuse to see it,” James Michener noted of the Dark Ages.
Professor Ralph Neuhaeuser with the Astrophysikalisches Institut und Universitäts-Sternwarte of Germany offered up the original Arabic from Ibn Sina’s labor on arXiv. It was named Kitab al-Shifa which was accompanied by an English translation. The authors of the paper said, “It remained for close to three months getting fainter and fainter until it disappeared; at the beginning it was towards a darkness and greenness, then it began to throw out sparks all the time, and then it became more and more whitish and then became fainter and disappeared.”
Neuhaeuser ultimately refuted Ibn Sina’s prior theory regarding the comet. Having occurred at 42 degrees south, SN 1006 would have been invisible to northern latitudes. When it exploded, Ibn Sina had been residing in Central Asia. His location was just far enough north that he would have struggled to see the supernova for himself and must have been dependent on others’ reports.
Aside from Ibn Sina’s records, there is no other evidence that SN 1006 changed colors from green to white. Though second hand accounts are often unreliable, astronomers have found the color transition a complexity which cannot be explained. While the frequency is still debated, SN 1006 is said to be an instance of two white dwarfs clashing, one of the rarest triggers of supernovae. This only further increases the value of data found dating back to this time.
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