A medieval manuscript might just be the key to predicting the next flare of a curious star.
Every eight decades, the rather unassuming star T CrB in the Corona Borealis constellation dazzles skywatchers with a sudden brilliance. It did just that in 1946, skyrocketing to become one of the night sky’s luminaries. Although records confirm this star’s flair in 1866 and 1946, a recent discovery suggests that it might have captured a medieval monk’s attention in 1217.
Medieval monasteries were meticulous record-keepers. Monks chronicled notable yearly events. Burchard, the 1217 abbot of Ursberg Abbey in Germany, documented a peculiar celestial occurrence:
“In the autumn season of … a star in what astrologers call Ariadne’s Crown [Corona Borealis]… shone with great light… This was seen for many days that autumn.”
Could this star have been T CrB or was it another celestial event? Dr. Bradley Schaefer embarked on a quest to answer this enigma.
Debunking The Supernova Theory
A supernova was the initial suspect. However, a supernova of such recent history would have a detectable cosmic footprint, much like the Crab Nebula’s trace from 1054. No evidence pointed to a supernova, leading Schaefer to dismiss this theory.
Corona Borealis is located far from the solar system’s ecliptic plane, making the possibility of a misidentified bright planet improbable. While a comet seemed a possible explanation, historical accounts typically associate them with gloomy omens. In contrast, this “wonderful sign” had a more positive connotation.
The 1787 Sighting: Another Puzzle Piece
English astronomer Francis Wollaston’s 1789 star catalog adds another layer to the T CrB mystery. He listed a star near T CrB without specifying its magnitude. After carefully considering and ruling out other celestial events, Schaefer leaned towards the conclusion that Wollaston observed T CrB during an outburst, although there might have been a slight misidentification.
If T CrB follows its historical pattern, Dr. Schaefer anticipates its next performance in the spring of 2024. If true, it would be the most brilliant nova event since CP Puppis’ 1942 eruption.
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