Space scientists who used the APEX telescope and the Submillimeter Array and the Effelsberg radio telescope to watch the Nova Vulpeculae has concluded that the event which European astronomers witnessed in the sky in 1670 was not a nova, but a collision of two stars. Visible to the naked eye when it occurred 340 years ago, traces of the collision could only be seen now with powerful sub millimeter telescopes.
17th century astronomer and father of lunar cartography, Hevelius said the appearance of the new star in the sky was a nova sub capite Cygni in 1670, in other words a new star below the head of a Swan known as Nova Vulpeculae 1670, the oldest recorded nova in history, and Cassini has agreed with him on this score.
Tomasz Kaminski of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany says, “For many years, this object was thought to be a nova, but the more it was studied, the less it looked like an ordinary nova, or indeed any other kind of exploding star.”
Since the appearance and disappearance of the star, scientists were only able to get a trace of its path again in the 1980s when some astronomers spotted a faint nebula around the spot where the star was believed to have appeared.
Kaminski said, “We have now probed the area with submillimeter and radio wavelengths. We have found that the surroundings of the remnant are bathed in a cool gas rich in molecules with a very unusual chemical composition.”
By using the APEX, the Sub millimeter Array and the Effelsberg radio telescope, scientists were able to determine the chemical composition and were able to measure the ratios of the different isotopes of gas within the given area. This provided scientists with a very detailed analysis as well as the material in the area.
Scientists discovered that the star which appeared in 1670 was not a nova, but a collision of two stars that produced a blinding brilliance exceeding that of a nova but lesser than a supernova and this created a red transient. Stars sometimes are believed to explode when they merge with another star, releasing into space massive materials and leaving behind a faint remnant that is usually rich in dust and molecules when cooled. This is what is believed to have been the case in the star sighted in 1670.
Karl Menten from the Max Planck Institute says, “This kind of discovery is the most fun, something that is completely unexpected.”