August 6 – Supernova Observed in China and Japan

Posted on August 6, 2014

It was one of the biggest kinds of ka-booms in the universe: a supernova.

A gigantic star dying in an enormous explosion – almost all of the star's material shooting outwards at 30 thousand kilometers per second – driving a shock wave into the mostly-empty spaces between stars – leaving behind a super-dense pulsar (or neutron star) that whips around its axis at the incredible speed of 15 revolutions PER SECOND!

Of course, the ancient Chinese and Japanese astronomers who spotted the supernova didn't know all that. They just thought it was a new star (which is what nova basically means).

The year was 1181. A new glint of light appeared in the night skies where no other star had appeared before – and stayed there for six months! Chinese and Japanese astronomers not only noticed the “new star,” they also kept records good enough so that modern astronomers could find what they had been looking at – even though the star / pulsar / shock wave faded to invisibility almost a thousand years ago. 

What scientists found is now called 3C58. (Isn't that a poetic name?)

And what they found is that 3C58 is cooling down a lot faster than expected.

How cool is it?

The surface of the neutron star is apparently just less than a million degrees Celsius. Seems pretty hot, right? But apparently scientists expect a neutron star as young as this one to be even hotter.

Wait – did you call 3C58 young? But...this pulsar was born in 1181!

More than 800 years old may seem pretty old...but some neutron stars are more than ten BILLION years old.

800 years – 10,000,000,000 years – that's a pretty huge range!

One of the things that we can wonder
about supernovas is, do the exploding
stars have planets? And, if so, do the
planets have life?

For sure, life couldn't live through its sun
exploding. But don't worry, OUR sun will
never supernova -- it just isn't large enough!
Most neutron stars that we can detect as pulsars are from 100,000 to 300,000,000 years old. And there may be a lot of older “silent” neutron stars, way older than ten billion years old, that we cannot detect, because we cannot measure their period of rotation and their period derivative.

Learn more about neutron stars here.

Also on this date:

Author Alfred, Lord Tennyson's birthday 

Artist Andy Warhol's birthday

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