Did a Supernova Mark the Birth of the Merry Monarch?

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 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.

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 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. (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.”

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