In A.D. 185, Chinese records note the appearance of a “guest star” that then faded away over the span of several months. In 1572, astronomer Tycho Brahe and many others watched as a previously unknown star in the constellation Cassiopeia blasted out gobs of light and then eventually disappeared. And 30 years ago, the world witnessed a similar blaze of light from a small galaxy that orbits the Milky Way. In each case, humankind stood witness to a supernova — an exploding star — within or relatively close to our galaxy (representative border in gray, below).
Here’s a map of six supernovas directly seen by human eyes throughout history, and one nearby explosion that went unnoticed. Some were type 1a supernovas, the detonation of a stellar core left behind after a star releases its gas into space. Others were triggered when a star at least eight times as massive as the sun blows itself apart.
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