First Indian record of supernova event found in Kashmir

Mumbai: Through a mural at the Mosque of Madani at Srinagar in Kashmir, Indian researchers claimed to have found the "first firm record" in the Indian subcontinent, of a supernova event that might have taken place centuries ago.

Researchers from Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education (HBCSE), Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) and the University of Kashmir said that the mural, depicted on a door-arch of Mosque of Madani, shows the supernova as a dragon-head on the tail of constellation Sagittarius.

Supernovae are celestial events which happen when massive stars exhaust their nuclear fuel and explode in a spectacular fashion. If that star is placed in our part of the Milky Way galaxy, the explosion could be visible from the earth, even during daytime, for several days.

Although the original mural is now lost to the forces of time, some descriptions about it are available and Department of Central Asian Studies in University of Kashmir has a reproduction of the same in their museum, a study said in the Journal Astronomische Nachrichten (Astronomical Notes) published yesterday from Germany.

Prof Mayank Vahia of TIFR, co-author of the study and principal investigator of the research project of Archaeoastronomy in Indian Context said, "Now, for the first time, we have found an Indian record of a supernova event."

"Many researchers had extensively searched Sanskrit literature for years and when no record was found, it was generally assumed that no records would ever be found. We looked at the non-literary sources and that proved to be decisive," Vahia said.

"I was always puzzled why the Sagittarius in this mural had a dragon-head on its tail. We had information about the mural including its rough period, but did not understand its meaning," Prof Aijaz Bandey from the University of Kashmir said.

"Archaeoastronomy project brought the astronomers and us together. The discovery again underscores multidisciplinary nature of modern research," he added.

For centuries, astronomers from different countries have noted such supernovae appearing in the sky from time to time.

Chinese were the most meticulous record-keepers. However, such records have also been found in Japan, Korea, Arab world, Europe and amongst native Americans.

Supernova of 1572 was systematically observed by famous astronomer Tycho Brahe and the one in 1604 was studied by another legendary astronomer Johannes Kepler. These records span from 185 AD to 1604 AD, overlapping with the golden era of Indian Astronomy.

"Thus, it was enigmatic that no Indian record of a supernova had been found till date," Vahia said.

Dr Aniket Sule of HBCSE, lead author of the study said while explaining the mural, "This picture of Sagittarius is pretty much like other contemporary depictions in Mughal India, except for the dragon head."

"In the year 1604, a supernova exploded in the exact region, where that dragon head is. Moreover, three other bright objects, namely Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were in close vicinity of the supernova when it exploded. Together they would have looked, as if, the tail of the Sagittarius was suddenly breathing fire," he said.

"Although the Mosque of Madani, where this mural is found is about 150 years older than the supernova, the glazed tiles used for the said mural give its date away. The glazed square tiles were introduced to the Indian subcontinent roughly at the same time as the supernova and not earlier," Sule said.

"Prince Shahjahan, who was in early teens at the time of this supernova, was a patron of this mosque and carried extensive repairs and added several decorative pieces to the mosque. It is likely that the said mural was added by Shahjahan as one of the new decorations," he added.