Archive for November, 2015

It’s Nova-ember!

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

On the 11th of November in 1572, in the world’s most state-of-the-art observatory, a young Danish nobleman observed a “stella nova” or “new star” in the constellation Cassiopeia and the event made him reconsider his decision to go to law school.

Today, we know this “new star” as “SN 1572” and “the supernova that happened in 1572” and “Tycho’s Nova” and “Tycho’s Supernova” and plenty of other names, as it was visible to the naked eye – even during the day – and recorded by people all over the world.

Thanks to SN 1572, the world was down one Danish lawyer and up one dueling astronomer. This was a good thing for all of us – and especially for his protégé, Johannes Kepler, who came into possession of a quantity of Brahe’s data at a five-finger discount.

Tycho Brahe died at the age of 54, and his observations and the accuracy of his measurements were remarkable when you consider that the telescope would not be invented until after he died (and it wouldn’t be used for astronomy until Galileo first did that in 1609). Brahe’s findings refuted Aristotle’s model of an unchanging universe.

As for the 1572 supernova, its remnant is visible today, though not to the naked eye. And thanks to Tycho Brahe and his 1573 book, De Nova Stella, we have the word “nova.”

Happy Nova-ember!