Hiker spots ancient supernova

A holidaying astronomer has discovered a unique rock carving depicting a brilliant supernova that exploded in our Milky Way 1,000 years ago.

The incredible picture, which was left by North American Indians, is believed to be the first record to be found in the New World of the star blowing itself to bits.

It shows an eight-pointed star alongside an image of a scorpion. The rare stellar suicide, already known to have been observed from China, the Middle East and Europe, happened in 1006 in the constellation Lupus, close to Scorpius, the scorpion.

The rock carving, pictured, was found by John Barentine, a professional scientist at the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico, while hiking in the White Tank Mountain Regional Park in Arizona. An ancient Native American tribe called the Hohokam are thought to have lived in the area, close to what is now Phoenix, Arizona.

Barentine told a meeting of the American Astronomical Society at Calgary, Canada, that he recognised the star was probably the supernova straight away. He added: “The supernova of 1006 was perhaps the brightest such event visible from Earth for thousands of years, reaching the brightness of a quarter moon.

“If confirmed, this discovery supports the idea that ancient Native Americans were aware of changes in the night sky and moved to commemorate them in their cultural record.” He said it could also help archaeologists to date accurately other rock carvings, or petroglyphs, in the USA and the rest of the world.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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