AAS 201st Meeting, January, 2003
Session 1. HAD I: Special Topics in the History of Astronomy
Special, Sunday, January 5, 2003, 2:00-6:00pm, East Room (Sheraton)

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[1.07] How Bright was the 1006 C.E. Supernova? A Re-examination from 11th-Century Sources.

P.F. Winkler (Middlebury Coll.), M. Kamal (UI Chicago)

SN~1006 is generally believed to have been the brightest stellar event in recorded human history. At maximum, it was definitely brighter than Venus, and was even compared with the Moon. Despite a southerly declination of -38\degr, clear records of its sudden appearance are found in contemporary chronicles from Egypt, Iraq, Italy, Switzerland, China, and Japan, with additional references that may refer to sightings of the star from France, Syria, and elsewhere. Recorded observations are much more numerous and widespread than for the far more favorably positioned (for northern observers) SN~1054 that occurred in Taurus only 48 years later and that produced the Crab Nebula. Despite numerous recorded sightings, observations that can be used to estimate quantitatively the brightness of SN~1006 are few. In this paper, we present a new interpretation of the most explicit of these, a short Arabic text by the Egyptian astrologer Ali bin Ridwan (d. 1061) in a commentary on Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos. The result is in excellent agreement with a recent a posteriori estimate of peak visual magnitude V0 = -7.5 ±0.4\ based on a new measurement of the distance to the SN~1006 remnant and the absolute magnitudes for typical Type Ia supernovae.

This research has been supported in part by the National Science Foundation through Grant AST-961845.

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