A rare Byzantine coin depicts a supernova explosion in 1054 AD

(ORDO NEWS) — In 1054 AD, a nearby star ran out of fuel and exploded in a blinding supernova explosion. Although it was 6,500 light-years away, the explosion was clearly visible in the sky above Earth for 23 days and several hundred nights after it.

The explosion, known today as SN 1054, was so bright that Chinese astronomers dubbed it a “guest star,” and skywatchers in Japan, Iraq, and possibly America recorded this sudden event in written and stone monuments.

But in Europe, where the Byzantine emperor Constantine IX and the Christian church ruled at the time, the big, blinding explosion in the sky was never mentioned.

Why? Did the Church simply ignore this blazing star, or was there a more nefarious plan to cover up the reality of the cosmos? The clue may be hiding in an unlikely place: a limited-edition gold coin, according to a new study.

In a study published in the August 2022 issue of the European Journal of Science and Theology, a team of scholars analyzed a series of four Byzantine gold coins minted during the reign of Constantine IX, from 1042 to 1055 AD.

Although only one star was depicted on three coins, the authors suggest that the fourth coin, which depicts two bright stars framing the image of the emperor’s head, may be a sophisticated heretical depiction of the 1054 supernova.

According to scientists’ interpretation, the emperor’s head could represent the sun, the eastern star could represent Venus, a regularly visible daytime object also called the “morning star”, and the western star SN 1054, which was visible for almost a month in the daytime sky opposite Venus.

The team adds that the two stars may also represent the warring Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic Churches, which split from each other during an event called the Great Schism in July 1054.

If this interpretation is correct, and the rare coin does show SN 1054, then this suggests that Byzantine scholars may have been prohibited from studying or writing about the supernova due to religious restrictions.

In fact, the church may have had a “philosophical bias against any observable changes in the supposedly perfect and eternal night sky,” the researchers write in their paper.

Combined with the chaos of the schism at the time, church officials may have thought it prudent to simply ignore the supernova. But at least one smart scientist may have found a way around the censorship.

“Given the Church’s stance on astronomy/astrology, there would be a strong incentive not to report any event – including an apparent supernova – that could threaten the theological/astronomical status quo,” the study authors write.

“Perhaps one way for the smart astronomer at the University of Constantinople Constantine IX to record this event would be to use a cipher, in this case a special issue minted coin that was minted after the 1054 event.”

Researchers also visited various museum collections to examine 36 examples of this double-star coin, revealing yet another unusual detail.

The size of the western star depicted on the coins was not uniform, but seemed to decrease with time – perhaps this should have represented the gradual fading of SN 1054 in the Earth’s sky.

These are reasonable hypotheses, although they lack concrete evidence, the authors of the study admit. The size and position of the stars on the coins may represent something very different, and only coincide with the appearance of a supernova.

In addition, none of the 36 coins examined have an exact date, so it is impossible to say whether they were minted before or after the supernova.

Today, SN 1054 is still visible as the Crab Nebula – though you’ll need a very good telescope to get a good look at its beauty. Luckily for astronomers, there are no emperors stopping them from studying this fascinating object.


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