This big hype up to yesterdays huge NASA announcement doesn’t appear to be justified to me. The announcement doesn’t strike me as that big a deal.
Basically, the big NASA story that we’ve been waiting breathlessly for is that astronomers have found a supernova remnant created by a star that went supernova during the US’ Civil War. This is significant because of two facts:
- Prior to this, the most recent supernova we’ve known of in the Milky Way is over 400 years old.
- The statistics of stellar populations tells us that there should be seeing about three supernova in the Milky Way each century - meaning we have roughly a 12 supernova deficit (well, 11 after yesterday’s announcement) since that 400 year old remnant.
The thing is, we understood already why we don’t see these things go off - even though they should all be as bright as the brightest planets at the distances within our own galaxy. Basically, the hypothesis is that lots of these supernova aren’t visible due to extinction - obscuration by the huge loads of galactic dust that get in the way of our seeing them.
So we’ve understood that supernova must be going off fairly frequently for a long time now. But we’ve also understood why we can’t easily see them. So now they find a remnant that helps confirm that (a) they are going off like we thought, and (b) we can’t easily see them for precisely the reasons that we thought.
Yeah, it’s a cool discovery. I’m fine with that. But it is cool because it shows the predictive power of the scientific method. We saw a discrepancy in the data. We made some discoveries that might explain the discrepancy. Then, at length, we confirmed that yep, that data does indeed explain the discrepancies.
But as far as the object itself, I’m completely unable to get worked up about it. Maybe it’s because it isn’t in the solar system. Maybe I’m just still a little blown up from my trip.
Whatever. If you want to learn about it, you apparently will get no opportunity from my apathy-riddled brain; instead, the Bad Astronomer has excellent coverage.