Astronomers in India have found an ancient rock art, which they believe is the oldest depiction of a supernova witnessed on Earth.
Supernovas or the explosion of a dying star have helped scientists learn a lot about the cosmos. Once a star goes supernova, astronomers can track the energy released by it and even create VR models to explore their remnants.
Astrophysicist Mayank Vahia and his colleagues at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research believe people living in Burzahama, a part of Kashmir in Northern India might have been the first to carve the stellar explosion on a rock sometime around 5,000 years ago. The team has found an ancient rock with drawings of two strange cosmic objects, according to a report in Quartz.
As the carving cannot represent two Suns or a weird Sun-Moon duo, the astronomers think that one of the objects depicted is a full Moon while the other would have been a supernova in close proximity of our Solar System. Such an explosion, even if thousands of light years away, would have shined enough through the darkness of the cosmos to appear nearly as bright as the Moon.
Still, in order to confirm the supernova explosion, the team tried to date the rock art – a task that took a lot of effort. They tried hunting down all stellar explosions visible around 4100BC and 2100BC, the period when the first settlers arrived in the area.
This helped them narrow down results to a supernova dubbed HB9. As the report describes, the stellar explosion would have occurred around 3600BC, appearing like a glowing ball of lightning to Earthlings who may have represented it with their creativity. This is likely to be the oldest depiction of a supernova.
According to a report in Newsweek, several supernovas have been discovered over the years, with the oldest confirmed example being from 185 A.D. – RCW 86 or the 'guest star' – that appeared in the night sky and stayed for about eight months. The supernova, according to Nasa, was about 8,000 light years away.
Vahia's study, detailed in Indian Journal of History of Science, notes the rock carving represents a lot more than the exploding star. On first look, the drawing appears to be a hunting scene underneath two space objects in the sky, but the astronomers say the scene accurately fits the constellations that likely surrounded the supernova – Orion, the man with bow and arrow, Taurus, the deer, and Pisces, represented by the man holding a spear.
Although the team says this would make the rock art one of the oldest sky charts to be discovered, the theory is highly debatable and could even be a coincidence. In fact, if it were to be true, there must be other cosmic carvings or similar star charts from the same time period, something the researchers are yet to find.