The supernova remnant Cassiopeia A (Cas A) is the relic of the explosion of a massive star that took place around 11,000 years ago and is one of the brightest radio sources in the sky. Oddly, although the light from the explosion should have reached the Earth in the seventeenth century and been easily visible in the sky, it appears to have gone unnoticed. Now astronomer Martin Lunn and historian Lila Rakoczy argue that the supernova was seen – as a 'new' star visible during the day at the birth of the future King Charles II of Great Britain. They will present their controversial idea on Monday 18 April, at the Royal Astronomical Society's National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno, Wales.
An X-ray image of the Cassiopeia A supernova remnant made with the Chandra X-ray observatory. Credit: NASA/CXC/MIT/UMass Amherst/M.D.Stage et al.
The date the explosion of Cas A would have been seen on Earth is a long-standing mystery in the history of astronomy but the generally accepted period is the latter half of the seventeenth century. Mr Lunn, former Curator of Astronomy at the Yorkshire Museum and Dr Rakoczy, a US-based independent scholar, suggest instead that Cas A could have been seen earlier – on 29 May 1630. This date is better known to historians as the day the future King Charles II of Great Britain was born and also significant for a 'noon-day star' alleged to have appeared at his birth, an important feature of later Stuart/Restoration propaganda. Separate sources refer to the star over a period of about 30 years.
The star has been widely discussed by historians and literary scholars but its credibility as a genuine astronomical event has remained largely unexplored. Mr. Lunn and Dr Rakoczy believe that it deserves further investigation.
Mr. Lunn comments, "The number and variety of sources that refer to the new star strongly suggest that an astronomical event really did take place. Our work raises questions about the current method for dating supernovae, but leads to the exciting possibility of solving a decades-old astronomical puzzle."
Martin Lunn MBE
Dr Lila Rakoczy
[Contact through Martin Lunn]
NAM 2011 Press Office (0900 – 1730 BST, 18-21 April only)
Venue Cymru conference centre
Tel: +44 (0)1492 873 637, +44 (0)1492 873 638
Dr Robert Massey
Royal Astronomical Society
Mob: +44 (0)794 124 8035
Royal Astronomical Society
Mob: +44 (0)7756 034 243
Caption: An X-ray image of the Cassiopeia A supernova remnant made with the Chandra X-ray observatory. Credit: NASA/CXC/MIT/UMass Amherst/M.D.Stage et al.
Notes for editors
Bringing together around 500 astronomers and space scientists, the RAS National Astronomy Meeting 2011 (NAM 2011: http://www.ras.org.uk/nam-2011) will take place from 17-21 April in Venue Cymru (http://www.venuecymru.co.uk), Llandudno, Wales. The conference is held in conjunction with the UK Solar Physics (UKSP: http://www.uksolphys.org) and Magnetosphere Ionosphere and Solar-Terrestrial Physics (MIST: http://www.mist.ac.uk) meetings. NAM 2011 is principally sponsored by the RAS and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC: http://www.stfc.ac.uk).
The Royal Astronomical Society
The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS: http://www.ras.org.uk), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organizes scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 3500 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.
The Science and Technology Facilities Council
The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC: http://www.stfc.ac.uk) ensures the UK retains its leading place on the world stage by delivering world-class science; accessing and hosting international facilities; developing innovative technologies; and increasing the socio-economic impact of its research through effective knowledge exchange. The Council has a broad science portfolio including Astronomy, Particle Astrophysics and Space Science. In the area of astronomy it funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the European Southern Observatory.
Venue Cymru (http://www.venuecymru.co.uk) is a purpose built conference centre and theatre with modern facilities for up to 2000 delegates. Located on the Llandudno promenade with stunning sea and mountain views; Venue Cymru comprises a stunning location, outstanding quality and exceptional value: the perfect conference package.