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Monday, October 17, 2005

Kepler's star

The last supernova to be observed in the Milky Way was spotted by several observers on 9th October 1604. These included John Brunowski in Prague who informed Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), then the Imperial Mathematician to the Habsburg Emperor. Kepler studied the phenomenon so intensively that it was later named Kepler's star. (You can see a photograph of its remnants here. I think it's one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.)

Kepler's star was the second supernova to be observed in a generation. In 1572 the rather good looking Danish astronomer, astrologer and alchemist Tycho Brahe had discovered one in the constellation of Cassiopeia. He was possibly not the first to see it. Early in his career Kepler had been Tycho's assistant. Incidentally if you've heard the story of an astronomer who died because he was too embarrassed to leave a banquet to go to the toilet, that was Tycho. It may however not be true.

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