April 28, 2016 report
Examination of ancient text reveals details of Ibn Sina's sighting of supernova
Ibn Sina was a Persian scientist and philosopher, who as part of his observations, traveled a lot and wrote about what he saw, along with his interpretations of subjects ranging from medicine to astronomy. It was one of those texts, called Kitab al-Shifa, about physics, meteorology, and especially astronomy that caught the attention of the researchers—most particularly a section that described a bright object appearing in the sky in the year 1006. The section had been studied before, but the account had been attributed to a discussion of a comet. In this latest look, the researchers suggest that the description was actually that of SN 1006. In addition to the timing, the detailed description, they note, sounds more like the sudden appearance of an exploding star. In their translation, Sina describes an object that was very bright and that changed color over time before fading away—even noting at one point that the object threw out sparks.
SN 1006 was noted and described by others around the world, from places as far-flung as Morocco, Japan, Yemen and China, but none of those descriptions included information about the object changing colors. Sina wrote that the object started out as faint greenish-yellow, that it twinkled a lot, especially at its brightest, and that it became whitish before it disappeared altogether.
Most modern astronomers believe that SN 1006 was not just a Ia supernova (which occur when a white dwarf is pulled into another star causing it to blow up due to the overabundance of matter), but that it was the result of two white dwarfs colliding. This new information from an ancient part-time astronomer, the researchers suggest, may help to better understand an event that occurred over a thousand years ago.
We present here an Arabic report about supernova 1006 (SN 1006) written by the famous Arabic scholar Ibn Sina (Lat. Avicenna, AD 980-1037), which was not discussed in astronomical literature before. The short observational report about a new star is part of Ibn Sina's book called al-Shifa', a work about philosophy including physics, astronomy, and meteorology. We present the Arabic text and our English translation. After a detailed discussion of the dating of the observation, we show that the text specifies that the transient celestial object was stationary and/or tail-less ("a star among the stars"), that it "remained for close to three months getting fainter and fainter until it disappeared", that it "threw out sparks", i.e. it was scintillating and very bright, and that the color changed with time. The information content is consistent with the other Arabic and non-Arabic reports about SN 1006. Hence, it is quite clear that Ibn Sina refers to SN 1006 in his report, given as an example for transient celestial objects in a discussion of Aristotle's "Meteorology". Given the wording and the description, e.g. for the color evolution, this report is independent from other reports known so far.
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