5,000-year old rock art found in India is likely the oldest depiction of a supernova

by Dave Sadler

Imagine looking up at the sky one night and finding two moons. If it happened in 2017, Twitter would be abuzz with people posting photos. News channels would get astronomers to explain what’s happening, and they’d say it’s not a supernatural phenomenon but likely an exploding star—a supernova. Within hours, telescopes would have nailed down the exact star that suffered the dreadful fate. And then, likely for weeks to come, you’d be able to enjoy the presence of a very, very, very bright star in the sky.

Now imagine seeing the same sight 5,000 years ago. Nobody in your tribe has any clue why there’s suddenly an extra super-bright object in the night sky. There are no records, written or pictorial, to consult. However, curious as you and your tribemates might be, you aren’t going to risk asking someone in the rival tribe nearby. All you could do is wonder about the oddity—and perhaps try to represent it through your favorite artistic medium.

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