The Crescent Moon Opens a Door Through History: this week on the Storyteller's Night Sky

May 6, 2019

The name Crab Nebula for the super nova of 1054 AD near Zeta Tauri is due to William Parsons, who observed the object in 1840 using a 36-inch telescope and produced a drawing that looked somewhat like a crab.

Nearly 1000 years ago, a star went super nova in the region of the Bull’s Horns, in Taurus, and this week, the waxing crescent Moon will sweep over the very spot, opening the door on a fascinating bit of cultural and scientific history.

The star at the tip of the Bull’s southern horn is known as Zeta Tauri and it was in this region of sky, in 1054 AD, that a super nova exploded into view. The explosion was so bright that it could be seen in broad daylight for several weeks, and then by night for many months afterward. 

The super nova was recorded by Chinese astronomers of the time, and it’s speculated that it was this same mystery in the sky that was painted in caves by the Chaco people of the American southwest. Seven hundred years later, while he was hunting for comets, French astronomer Charles Messier came upon the remnants of this super nova, but without a way to define what he was seeing, he simply recorded it as the first object in what would later become his famous catalogue. The super nova is now known as the Crab Nebula, because of its appearance in telescopes, and it’s one of the most researched objects in the sky. Within one week of its explosion in July of 1054 the Great Schism occurred, the final separation between the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches. It’s astonishing to consider what’s going on in the cultural sphere at the same time that terrific celestial phenomena are occurring, because nothing happens in a vacuum, and as Emily Dickinson wrote, the stars ‘point the way’. Look west for the waxing crescent Moon with Zeta Tauri Tuesday night, May 7th, about an hour after sunset. Mars will be just above and right, warrior guardian, as though asking us what has resulted from this discovery and this schism through these long ages.