AMATEUR astronomers have a new date for their diaries. In 2022, in the constellation of Cygnus, they will be treated to the sight of a nova, or “new star”. By themselves, novas are not particularly noteworthy. Several dozen a year happen in Earth’s home galaxy, the Milky Way, alone. But this one will be special for two reasons.
One is its intensity: provided you are somewhere reasonably dark (in the countryside, in other words, rather than a big city) it will be bright enough to be seen by the naked eye. The second is that it will be the first nova whose existence was predicted before the fact. Assuming everything goes according to schedule, the credit for that will belong to Lawrence Molnar, an astronomer at Calvin College, in Michigan, and his team, who have set out their predictions in a paper to be published soon in the Astrophysical Journal.
It is a tale of scientific serendipity. “Nova”, which is Latin for “new”, comes from the title of a book (also the title of this article) published in 1573 by Tycho Brahe, a Danish astronomer. This recorded what would…Continue reading
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