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Classical astronomy
Middle Ages
     A sudden bright star AD 1054
     A moving star AD 1066

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A sudden bright star: 1054

Astronomers in China and Japan are excited to observe a new star in the constellation of Taurus. It is so bright that for three weeks it remains visible even in daylight. For a year it can be seen in the night sky. Then it gradually fades from view.

They note this strange phenomenon in their records. Some nine centuries later astronomers identify these notes as the first detailed observation of a supernova. The mysterious event watched with such fascination in the east is the mighty explosion of a star. Its remains, still rapidly flying apart, can be seen now in the night sky as the Crab Nebula.


A moving star: 1066

Just twelve years after the sudden bright star of 1054, there is another phenomenon in the sky - a 'long-haired' star, or comet. It is easily visible in Europe in the last week of April 1066. The great significance of that year in Norman history, combined with the omen of the comet, is sufficient for the apparition to feature prominently in the Bayeux tapestry. A group of men point at a star with a blazing tail. The caption explains Isti mirant stella ('these marvel at the star').

The 'star' returns at regular intervals to the night sky. Marvelling at it on one such visit, in 1682, is the English astronomer Edmund Halley.


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