The Crab Nebula, as we have come to know it today, is a supernova remnant; a
perfect illustration of what may remain a star’s death spectacular death.
Since it’s initial
discovery by Ancient Chinese in 1054, the star and it’s colorful corpse have aroused
much curiosity among astronomers. That curiosity has led to revolutionary discoveries
about neutron stars, pulsars, and, generally speaking, a much deeper and thorough
understanding of the life process of a star.
Historical Observations of Supernova 1054
Supernova 1054 was first observed on July 4, 1054, hence the name. The most
well-known early documentation of its discovery is found in Chinese recordings. They
observed the “guest star” to be about four times brighter than Venus (or about magnitude
-6.) According to their records, the bright object in the constellation Taurus was visible in
daylight, even at high noon, for 23 days, and 653 days to the naked eye in the night sky.
They recorded the following description:
“In the last year of the period of Chih-ho, … a guest star appeared… After more
than a year it became invisible.” (Arny)
But the Chinese were not the only eastern civilization to record the event. Simon
Mitton, a professor of astrophysics at Cambridge University, found five independent
recordings of Supernova 1054, documented in his 1978 book
The Crab Nebula.
credits legendary Chinese astronomer Yang Wei-Te with most of the Chinese recordings.
Mitton also notes that, despite being quite active in astrological observation and
recording, no Arab or European records of SN 1054 have been found. (SEDS)
Thousands of miles away, the Anasazi Indian residents of Chaco County also
recorded observations of SN 1054. Archaeologists found
three painted symbols on the
side of an Anasazi ‘great house’ called Penasco Blanco. One symbol is the moon; the
other two are a handprint and a 10-point star. The handprint is believed to be Halley’s
Comet, which is logical since the fingers would’ve been an easy way to represent the
comet’s tail. The other is likely SN 1054, which was observed by the Chinese to be
strikingly close in proximity to the crescent moon. (Seds, SkyGlobe)
Observing the night sky was a vital part of Anasazi culture, so when the
appearance of both Halley’s Comet and SN 1054 occurred within only a few years of
each other, the Anasazi were quite naturally motivated to record them. But it is likely that