In 1054 AD, a nearby star ran out of fuel and exploded in a dazzling supernova explosion. Although located 6,500 light-years away, the explosion was clearly visible in the sky above Earth for 23 days and several hundred nights afterwards.
The explosion, now known as the SN 1054, was so bright that Chinese astronomers dubbed it a “guest star”, while skywatchers in Japan, Iraq and possibly the Americas recorded the sudden onset of the explosion in writing and in the Pierre. But in Europe — which was largely governed at the time by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine IX and the Christian Church – the big, dazzling explosion in the sky was never mentioned, not once.
Why not? Did the church simply ignore this spontaneous star, or was it a more nefarious plot to cover up the reality of the cosmos at stake? A clue to the answer may be hiding in an unexpected place, according to new research: a limited edition gold piece of money.
In a study published in the August 2022 issue of European Journal of Science and Theologya team of researchers has analyzed a series of four Byzantine gold coins minted during the reign of Constantine IX, from 1042 to 1055 AD. While three of the coins only showed a single star, the authors suggest that the fourth coin – which shows two bright stars framing an image of the Emperor’s head – may be a subtle and possibly heretical depiction of the supernova. of 1054.
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According to the team’s interpretation, the head of the emperor could represent the sunthe eastern star represents Venus — a regularly visible daytime object also called the “Morning Star” — while the western star represents SN 1054, which has been visible for almost a month in the daytime sky opposite Venus. The team adds that the two stars may also represent the warring Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic churches, which split in an event called the Great Schism in July 1054.
If this interpretation is correct and the rare coin shows SN 1054, it suggests that Byzantine scholars may have been banned from studying or writing about the supernova due to religious restrictions. Essentially, the church may have had a “philosophical bias against any observed change in the supposedly perfect and eternal night sky,” the researchers wrote in the paper. Combined with the chaos of the schism at the time, church officials may have thought it prudent to simply ignore the supernova. But at least one clever scholar may have found a way around the censorship.
“Given the position of the Church on astronomy/astrology, there would be a strong incentive not to report the occurrence of any event – including an obvious supernova – which would threaten the theological/astronomical status quo,” wrote the study authors. “Perhaps one of the ways for a clever astronomer at Constantinople University of Constantine IX to record the event would be to use a cipher, in this case a special edition minted coin that has was struck after event 1054.”
The researchers also visited various museum collections to study 36 examples of this two-star coin, which brought to light another particular detail. The size of the western star shown on the coins was not uniform, but appeared to decrease over time – perhaps intended to represent the gradual dimming of SN 1054 in Earth’s skies.
These are reasonable hypotheses, although they lack concrete evidence, admit the authors of the study. The size and arrangement of the stars on the coins could represent something else entirely and only coincide with the appearance of the supernova. Additionally, no definitive date has been assigned to any of the 36 coins examined, so it is impossible to say whether they were minted before or after the supernova appearance.
Today, SN 1054 is still visible as the Crab Nebula – although you’ll need a really good telescope to get it right. beauty of shellfish. Fortunately for astronomers, no emperor prevents them from studying this fascinating object.
Originally posted on Live Science
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