Tycho's Supernova

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Tycho SN
Nova Cas 1572, Cas B, BD+63 39a, HR 92, SN 1572A

Type  Supernova Remnant
Size  8' x 8'
Right Ascension  0h 25' 22"  (2000)
Declination  64° 8' 27" N
Constellation  Cassiopeia
Observing Notes

Captain William Henry Smyth

To the northward of this object [55 Cas], in the open space under the scabellum, a new star suddenly burst forth in full splendour, in November, 1572; and the locality ought to be diligently watched.

This discovery appears to have been made by Schuler at Wittemburg, on the 6th of August; but the star was seen by Hainzel at Augsburg on the 7th, and by Cornelius Gemma on the 9th of November. Correspondence was, however, in those days, pretty heavily clogged, so that each was probably a discovery independent of the other.

Thus it happened to Tycho Brahé, who was astonished at the apparition, when returning to supper from his crucibles, on the llth of November: and as it was the only change which had been known to take place in the appearance of the heavens since the revival of learning in Europe, it excited the utmost attention. This star fortunately made its apparition when astronomy was sufficiently cultivated for it to be watched with precision; and being in the circumpolar region, it was constantly in view.

"By a strange instinct," says one of its historians, "by a strange instinct of Providence were those admirable instruments made and erected by Tycho, a little before the appearing of this starre, as if either the starre had stayed for his tooles, or he had foreseene the birth of that starre;" but still stranger was the instinct which made the same Tycho ashamed of publishing his observations on it, considering it "a disgrace for a nobleman either to study such subjects, or to communicate them to the public."

The stranger twinkled strongly, so that its aspect was precisely that of a star, having none of the distinctive marks of a comet: it was at first white, then yellow, afterwards reddish, and finally bluish, which led the great La Place to the strange and unsatisfactory analogy of a body under the action of fire. It grew rapidly, until it surpassed Sirius in brilliancy, being brighter than Jupiter when in perigee; and as it was even visible in the day-time, Cornelius Gemma concluded its lustre to be scarcely less than that of Venus.

The maximum magnitude was of short duration, and it diminished by degrees till March, 1574, when it entirely vanished from view, and has not been since seen. During its apparition it continued to hold the same position with respect to the other stars of the constellation; and as Tycho Brahe was unable to ascertain that it had any sensible parallax, he justly concluded that its place was beyond the planetary bounds. He was the forerunner of the theory of the transformation of nebulas into stars, in supposing that it was produced by a condensation of the celestial matter collected in the Milky Way; and he inserted it in the Catalogue appended to the Rudolphine Tables, as of the 6th magnitude, and No. 46 of the asterism,
Lon. ♉ 6°54'  Lat 53°45'  Nova, anni 1572
Tycho Brahé, Kepler, Beza, Maurolycus, and other exact spectators, wrote dissertations upon it; but to all the reasonings as to why it had not been seen before, Reisacher's answer is perhaps the best: "God knows."

The astute Dr. Dee started the idea that it moved alternately towards, and from the earth, in a direct line. His brethren tried this phenomenon by their tools, and found that it came in with the fiery trigon, or that in which Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars, are in the three fiery signs —Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius; an event which occurs only every 800 years.

Tycho had some heterodox notions as to its origin; and Ricciolus, no friend to astrology, admitted that it was saluted by all the planets before it was extinguished. This remark, added to that of La Place, made Mrs. Somerville say, u It is impossible to imagine anything more tremendous than a conflagration that could be visible at such a distance;" but in a conversation upon the topic with her, I found this intelligent lady not at all inclined to grant, that so vast a combustion was within the precincts of probability.

Keill conjectured it to have a period of 150 years, but as it did not return to the time, the notion was started that it might have different degrees of lustre at different times. Here, however, the mind must pause; and in our ignorance, no reasoning upon such a wonderful body can be deemed wild, except that of annihilation.

As there are vague impressions that similar stars appeared in 945 and 1264, Sir J. Herschel thinks it possible another such appearance may take place in 1872, or thereabouts. Telescopes will then be applied, owing to the want of which, in 1572, it could not be ascertained whether the stranger had any sensible diameter.ι
― A Cycle of Celestial Objects Vol II, The Bedford Catalogue, William Henry Smyth, 1844
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Tycho's Supernova