More than 400 years ago, a spectacular new star appeared in the night sky.
Johannes Kepler (famous for his laws of planetary motion) wrote a book about the supernova sighting after a week of observation titled “De Stella nova in pede Serpentarii” (“On the new star in Ophiuchus’s foot”, Prague 1606).
The supernova (1604) occurred in the constellation Ophiuchus.
It is the most recent supernova to have been observed by the naked eye in our own galaxy. This was about the same time period that Galileo was beginning to use the telescope, but most astronomy was still done by looking up at the sky. The explosion happened about 6 kiloparsecs or about 20,000 light-years from Earth.
1 parsec = 30856775814671900 meters (approximate)
- ≈ 19173512 million miles
- ≈ 206264.806 astronomical units
- ≈ 3.261564 light years
Kepler’s Star (as it was known at the time) was brighter at its peak than any other star in the night sky, and all the planets other than Venus, with an apparent magnitude of −2.5. It was visible during the day for over three weeks.
Kepler began observing it on October 17, 1604 and concluded his observations a year later. The “star” was named after him because his observations and his book.
It was the second supernova to be observed in a generation (after SN 1572 was seen by Tycho Brahe in Cassiopeia). No other supernovae have been observed (with confirmation) in the Milky Way since (many supernovae are regularly seen outside our galaxy).
The fast-moving shell of iron-rich material from the exploded star reveals a bubble-shaped shroud of gas and dust that is 14 light-years wide and expanding at 4 million miles per hour.
The hottest gas appear blue in this image, cooler X-rays are green.
– Ex astris, scientia –
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