Egypt’s Ancient Astronomers?

Algol, also known as the Demon Star, is a binary system, meaning it contains two stars rotating around each other. Until recently, it was believed this unique feature was discovered by John Goodricke in 1783. Now, we have reason to believe it was detected thousands of years earlier. Did ancient Egyptian astronomers discover and understand Algol?

Algol and the Mysterious Cairo Calendar?

In 1200 BC, ancient Egyptian astronomers created a document now known as the Cairo Calendar. They used it to record observations about the sky. Recently, a team of scholars from the University of Helsinki took a closer look at this calendar. In doing so, they discovered the ancient Egyptians weren’t just recording changes in the sky. They were attempting to understand and calculate how the stars worked.

The Cairo Calendar charts at least two specific cycles. One cycle lasts 29.6 days, roughly the same amount of time as the lunar cycle. The other cycle lasts 2.85 days and appears to match the activity of Algol. Currently, Algol dims every 2.867 days, most likely because its stars rotate and block each other’s light.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

But what about that small difference between the two numbers? One possibility is the ancient Egyptians simply made slight errors in their calculations. However, there’s also an intriguing alternative theory. It’s possible Algol’s rotation has slowed over time. If this is the case, it would add evidence to a recent theory that Algol is actually a three-star system.

Interesting huh? Of course, it’s impossible to say for certain, not without a better understanding of how the ancient Egyptians recorded the cycles. Still, at least for the moment, it seems possible that the work of these ancient Egyptian astronomers has shed new light on one of the night sky’s most perplexing puzzles.

A Supernova…in Ancient Texts?

In 1006 AD, ancient astronomers and astrologers from around the world witnessed a strange cosmic event. A brilliant light emitted from a strange and new “star” in the sky. The incident lasted for three months and was marveled at separately in places as far apart as China, Egypt, and Switzerland. Did these ancient scientists observe an ancient supernova?

What is a Supernova?

A supernova is a stellar explosion. It’s characterized by a bright light, intense radiation, and the high-speed expulsion of the star’s materials. If one happened too close to earth, it could easily lead to mass extinction or even destroy our planet. It has long been strongly suspected that the strange sighting by the ancients was that of a supernova called SN 1006. And it wasn’t just any supernova…it was the brightest one in recorded history. It was followed up in 1054 AD by SN 1054, a second brilliant supernova which created the crab nebula.

In 2009, Japanese scientists traveled to Antarctica to search for physical evidence of these supernovas. They drilled into the ice and brought out 122 meters of core samples. Using known volcanic eruptions as reference points, they discovered “NO3 spikes at times corresponding to 1006 and 1054, as well as a mysterious unknown third event.”

Did a Supernova cause Events Described in Ancient Texts?

The presence of nitrogen oxide in the ice provides the first real physical evidence that a supernova was responsible for the events in 1006 and 1054. When a supernova occurs, gamma rays impact the Earth’s atmosphere, hence the excess NO-3 in ancient, well-preserved ice.

As for the mysterious third event, it would appear that yet another supernova took place during the 11th century. The fact that it wasn’t recorded in ancient texts indicates that it may have been only visible from the southern hemisphere or perhaps, hidden by clouds.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Three large supernovas in a single century? That’s incredible. And its even more impressive when one considers that two of them were the brightest stellar events in history. When everything’s said and done, it seems clear that the 11th century deserves to be recognized as one of the most cosmically active periods of all time.