The Supernovas Ancient Humans Saw

A timeline of when astronomers think these stars exploded over our ancestors' skies.

By Korey Haynes
Mar 10, 2017 7:01 PMNov 22, 2019 10:27 PM
Cass A - NASA
Cass A (Credit: NASA)


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

About twice each century, a star in our galaxy explodes in a supernova. Only a few of those explosions happen close enough to Earth to be visible with the naked eye. By comparing ancient observations with today’s spacecraft data on supernova remains, scientists hope to nail down when those stars exploded. Here’s a look at eight supernovas that caught earthlings’ attention throughout history.

Photo Credits: NASA

RCW 86

A.D. 185

Chinese and possibly Roman astronomers recorded a strange new star in the skies.

Photo Credits: NASA


A.D. 393

Chinese observers reported a so-called “guest star” that shone for months, appearing as bright as Jupiter.

Photo Credits: NASA


A.D. 1006

This stellar explosion surpassed Venus in brightness and captivated skywatchers worldwide. 

Photo Credits: NASA

Crab Nebula

A.D. 1054

The supernova responsible for the famous Crab Nebula lit up even daytime skies, possibly rivaling the full moon in brightness. 

Photo Credits: NASA


A.D. 1181

The aftermath of this exploding star was visible for six months, giving Chinese and Japanese astronomers ample time to record it. 

Photo Credits: NASA

Tycho's Supernova Remnant

A.D. 1572

Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe recorded a clear description of this supernova, and astronomers have watched its detritus glow ever since. 

Photo Credits: NASA

Kepler's Supernova Remnant

A.D. 1604

Johannes Kepler, a German-born mathematician and astronomer, tracked this supernova for a year, lending it his name. 

Photo Credits: NASA

Cass A

A.D. 1680

This star exploded nearly unnoticed, with only a possible identification by John Flamsteed, England’s first Astronomer Royal.

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.