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Avicenna’s unique account of supernova

28 April 2016 6:57


Persian scholar’s note gives astrophysicists crucial insight into supernova

In the early years of the last millennia, a titanic cosmic explosion was seen on the Earth for nearly three months in the form of a highly bright star, over 10 times as luminous as the Venus and visible even during daytime, though it was blazing about 7,200 light-years away from our home planet then. The colossal blast, or the guest star as described by earthlings, won the admiration of people around the world and inspired numerous scholars and historians from Asia, the Middle East and Europe, including the renowned Persian philosopher and physician Ibn Sina (Avicenna), to record the spectacular event.

We now know that what people saw for the first time in late April 1066 was actually the supernova 1006, which is considered as the brightest stellar event in recorded history. What distinguishes Ibn Sina’s detailed account of the celestial wonder from that of other observers, according to a recent study, is his precise description of the color evolution of the transient object, which was not seen in other reports, and thus, making the account invaluable for modern astrophysics.

Ibn Sina (AD 980-1037), described the event in his Kitab al-Shifa (Book of Healing), a masterpiece written in several volumes that tackles Earth sciences, logic, philosophy, physics, mathematics, astronomy, music, psychology and theology.

“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. It can also have the form of a beard or of an animal with horns or of other figures,” Ibn Sina said, based on a translation the German researchers of the new study made from the original Arabic.

According to Ralph Neuhäuser and his colleagues, this object was long mistaken for a comet in this astronomical account written by Ibn Sina, but it is really a record of SN 1006, which he could have witnessed when he lived in northern Iran.

“It is special that he mentions a color evolution, which is not mentioned by the others,”astrophysicist Neuhäuser further said, adding that recognizing how the supernova changed hue over time, as well as tracking its recorded changes in brightness, can help modern astrophysicists better understand this particular flavor of supernova.
A supernova occurs during the last stellar evolutionary stages of a massive star’s life, whose dramatic and catastrophic destruction is marked by one final gigantic explosion.

The study, titled “An Arabic report about supernova SN 1006 by Ibn Sina (Avicenna)”, was published just recently in the Astronomical Notes journal.

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