Supernova Shell Shock | The Institute for Creation Research

Supernova Shell Shock

They had told us a particular supernova exploded 10,000 years ago. How then, did the Chinese see it in AD 185? The answer is a case study in scientific inference.

Supernova remnants (SNRs) are shells of material expanding outward from stellar explosions. Presumably, one can tell how long ago a star exploded by measuring the velocity of the expanding shell and extrapolating it backward in time. In the case of RCW 86 in Centaurus, the calculated time of explosion was 10,000 years. According to Space.com (9/26/2006), astronomers now realize it was witnessed by Chinese astronomers 1,821 years ago. This means the earlier date was off by over 80%. What happened?

From the Chandra X-ray data, they now believe the expanding shell rammed into interstellar material, slowing it down and making it pile up. Extrapolating the current speed backward linearly was based on a flawed assumption.

One of the most widely dispersed SNRs in northern skies has a similar tale to tell. The Veil Nebula arches into graceful loops over a large region in Cygnus. Earlier estimates of its age were in the tens of thousands of years. In 2001, however, Sky & Telescope (2/2001) reported a surprise. By comparing Hubble views with photographs taken in 1953, astronomers recalculated its age at 5,000 years.

Light echoes from two "ancient" SNRs in the Large Magellanic Cloud were reported in Nature (12/22/2005) to be merely 410 and 610 years old.

Astronomers use supernovas as age and distance indicators. It's hard to have confidence in the pronouncements of professionals who consider it normal to be off by 80% or more. Would this be acceptable in other fields? Yet upsets in astronomy are common. For instance, the behavior of V838 Monocerotis, after its explosion in 2002, caused astonishment. Scientists don't know how to classify this object or what produced the outburst.

Supernova-prone stars were thought to be well understood. Last November, however, one was found more massive than the upper limit permitted by theory. This opens up a "Pandora's box" for theorists, reported a press release from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Nature (9/28/2006) made the comical statement that "Clearly, stars with masses >10 solar masses exist, so there must be a way for them to form."

We should remember that once upon a time all supernovae were thought to be alike. Now they fall into two types, each with several classes and subclasses -- and some types can switch classes.

One final case should be recalled when reading confident claims by astronomers. A pulsar thought to be 24,000 years old was photographed by the Chandra telescope in 2001. Astronomers later realized it lined up with a supernova observed by the Chinese in AD 386. This means the earlier date was less than 7% correct. Hamlet might have the better wisdom: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

*David F. Coppedge works in the Cassini program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (The views expressed are his own.)

Cite this article: Coppedge, D. 2007. Supernova Shell Shock. Acts & Facts. 36 (5).

The Latest
NEWS
Aerial Engineering and Physics of the Dragonfly
Dragonflies (order Odonata) are perhaps one of the most studied and appreciated insects in the world today. Like the hummingbird, the dragonfly is a master...

NEWS
Seafloor Spreading Matches Creation Predictions
Evolutionary scientists recently determined that seafloor spreading has been slowing down.1 And they are not exactly sure of the reason. However,...

NEWS
Remembering Patti Morse
But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from...

CREATION PODCAST
What Happened with Washington's Violent Volcano? | The Creation...
How did a 1980 volcanic eruption change our understanding of geology? What impact did this event have on the age assignments of sediments? Join us for...

NEWS
Fossil Insect Predation Shows No Evidence of Evolution
Some recent science news stories have come out describing fossils of insects feeding on plants supposedly many “millions of years ago.” What...

NEWS
Adaptive Genetic and Epigenetic Changes in Plants
Being sedentary organisms, plants are essentially stuck where they are planted and need to dynamically adapt to the conditions around them to not only...

NEWS
Dr. Tim Clarey Awarded Adjunct Professor of the Year
Congratulations to ICR Research Scientist and geologist Dr. Tim Clarey! He received the Adjunct Professor of the Year award from King’s University,...

NEWS
Mars Rover Records Dramatic Solar Eclipse
NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover has filmed the Martian satellite (or moon) Phobos eclipsing the sun, and this short but impressive video may be viewed...

CREATION PODCAST
Darwin or Design? CET Pt. 2 | The Creation Podcast: Episode 22
How does design provide a better explanation for biological functions and adaptations than natural selection? And how can engineering principles help...

NEWS
Resurrecting “Ancient” Enzymes?
The most abundant protein on Earth is probably an enzyme (biological catalyst) called RuBisCO (or Rubisco) designed by the Creator to function in photosynthesis.1...