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
Milankovitch Ice Age Theory in the News
A letter to the editor in Nature Geoscience notes that this year marks the 100-year anniversary of Milutin Milankovitch’s (Milanković’s) book...

NEWS
Viking DNA Highlights Post-Babel Genetic Diversity
The standard theme often given for Viking history is that of blond-haired, blued-eyed, burly men exploring, trading, ransacking, and pillaging across Europe,...

NEWS
Getting Carbon into the First Cell
Today’s secular mindset replaces “In the beginning God…” with “In the beginning, hydrogen….” The extreme specificity...

NEWS
Secular Science Struggles to Explain Origin of Earth’s Water
Tim Clarey, Ph.D., and Jake Hebert, Ph.D. Secular scientists continue to struggle to explain the origin of Earth’s water. And a new study...

NEWS
South American Plant Fossils Confirm Flood Boundary
Jeffrey P. Tomkins, Ph.D., and Tim Clarey, Ph.D. Fossil pollen, leaf and fruit impressions, and petrified wood taken from multiple locations...

NEWS
Record-Breaking Mouse, Higher Than Any Mammal
Recently, researchers have reported on the world’s “highest-dwelling mammal,” the yellow-rumped leaf-eared mouse, observed upon a dormant...

NEWS
Was This Cave Bear Really “Prehistoric”?
The preserved carcass of a “prehistoric” cave bear has been discovered in melting permafrost on an Arctic Russian Island.1,2 Reindeer...

NEWS
Have Scientists Found Life on Venus?
Secular scientists are obsessed with attempting to show that life on Earth is not unique and therefore must exist, if not elsewhere in our solar system...

NEWS
Inside October 2020 Acts & Facts
What is ICR’s vision for the next chapter of creation ministry? Why do mosquitoes attack humans? How did we celebrate the first anniversary of...

ACTS & FACTS
Abound in This Grace
One of the strongest exhortations for Christian giving is found in Paul’s encouragement to the believers in Corinth. In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul...