This Day In Science History: The Discovery of a Supernova


You are here

Animation: The Early Flash of an Exploding Star, Caught by Kepler. Credit: NASA Ames, STScI/G. Bacon
On 6 November 1572, a supernova in the Cassiopeia constellation was first observed by German astronomer Wolfgang Schuler. The star, which appeared adjacent to the less visible star located northwest of the middle of the “W”, was seen by many other observers throughout Europe and Asia. Although Schuler was the first to spot the supernova, Tycho Brahe, a Danish nobleman and neophyte astronomer is most associated with its discovery. Brahe was so inspired by what he observed that he dedicated the remainder of his life charting the positions of the stars and planets. In fact, just prior to the discovery of the “New Star,” Brahe had invented a sextant that allowed him to measure the distances between stars, locate the exact position of the “New Star” and measure its angular distance from other stars in its constellation. Brahe also went on to write a book Stella Nova, Latin for new star, which garnered him great notoriety.
For two weeks, the “New Star” was the brightest star in the sky and visible even during daylight hours. Towards the end of the month its color changed from bright white to yellow, and then orange, and finally a reddish tint until it disappeared. It remained visible to the naked eye for the next 16 months.
There is still a great deal in the universe yet to be discovered as well as understood about stellar explosions and their evolution. Weizmann Institute scientists are making significant strides in answering the question how do stars become supernovae. Below are some of the testimonies of the contributions being made by Weizmann Institute astronomers: