23 October 2006

RCW 86 checks in early

It looks like some new things have just been learned about dating astronomical events.

The supernova RCW 86 was apparently spotted by Chinese astronomers in 185AD, but scientists had thought of it as being 10,000 or so years old.

The events were suggested by astronomers as being connected, but it wasn’t until Jacco Vink and team from the University of Utrecht (the Netherlands) did studies with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory & the ESA’s XMM-Newton Observatory that suggestions that “historical records of the object’s position in the sky” could be seriously used to establish the connection.

The supernova forms a shock-wave, and Vink’s team used the advanced space ’scopes to look at the wave and calculate how long it had been going... about 2000 years, according to Aya Bamba, coauthor from the Institute of Physical & Chemical Research in Japan.

With this extra information (and the ’scopes) Vink is now planning to “probe the original supernova to learn what type of star exploded and how much energy was involved in the stellar fireworks”.

It’s always inspiring to see learning happen, especially in areas where our knowledge is still a tad shakey, but every man and his dog charges in full of confidence. (-:

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