The Guest Star
Around the year 1006, astronomers across the world spotted what they described as a “guest star” in the sky. Persian scholar Ibn Sina, however, gave a far more detailed account of the events than most others.
In the Kitab al-Shifa (the Book of Healing), he explained how the transient object, which could be seen in the sky for months, kept changing color. He added that it threw out sparks before finally fading away.
For a long time, the object was suspected of being a comet, but we now know that Sina was looking at a supernova, one that took place 7,200 years ago and whose visible light only reached Earth at the turn of the first millennium. Although its visible wavelengths have since dissipated from view, the high-energy remnants of SN 1006 can still be seen thanks to NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.
The color change in this case may refer to the merger of two white dwarfs, which would create a particularly energetic supernova bursting with color. This is exactly what Sina described, which means that not only is this legend true, but he provided modern astronomers with detail that may otherwise have been lost.
One of the most well-known myths in human history, and first described by Greek philosopher Plato, tells a tale of a civilization at its peak sinking beneath the waves, lost for all eternity. It’s heavily debated, but a number of archaeologists think that it could have been based on the collapse of the Minoan empire.
Around 3,650 years ago, a powerful volcanic eruption rocked Santorini, then referred to as Thera. The vast magma chamber was emptied so catastrophically quickly that the core of the island collapsed, sending a tsunami across to Crete and flooding much of Thera with the inflowing Aegean Sea. Suffice to say, the Minoan civilization sunk beneath the waves and was never heard from again.
The Guest Star, which was actually a type 1a supernova, SN 1006. NASA