. 24/7 Space News .
Rock Carving Linked To 1000-Year-Old Supernova Sighting

A simulated night sky looking south from the location of the petroglyph at midnight on May 1, 1006. The supernova appears just above the horizon near the center. Image credit: Gilbert A. Esquerdo/Planetary Science Institute/Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.
by Staff Writers
Calgary, Alberta (SPX) Jun 06, 2006
Astronomers announced Monday they have discovered a possible link between a symbol on an ancient rock carving and a supernova that occurred 1,000 years ago.

Reporting at the 208th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, John Barentine, with Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico and Gilbert A. Esquerdo, with the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz., said they think a petroglyph, found in the White Tanks Regional Park in Arizona depicts the well-known supernova of A.D. 1006.

The petroglyph is located in an area once occupied by prehistoric Native Americans called the Hohokam, which archaeologists think lived in the area - outside modern-day Phoenix - from about A.D. 500 to 1100.

Until now, the supernova was thought to only have been recorded by star watchers in the Old World, because simultaneous written records from Asia, the Middle East and Europe recognize the appearance of a "new star" in the modern constellation of Lupus on May 1, 1006.

Confirmation of their proposition would advance understanding of prehistoric Native American astronomy and traditions concerning the night sky.

"The supernova of 1006 was perhaps the brightest such event visible from Earth for thousands of years, reaching the brightness of a quarter moon at peak," Barentine said, "yet to date no representations of the event have been identified in Native American art."

If confirmed, he added, the discovery would support "the idea that ancient Native Americans were aware of changes in the night sky and moved to commemorate them in their cultural record."

Barentine said the discovery also could benefit archaeologists trying to fix precise dates to petroglyphs in the Southwest and elsewhere in the world, "providing a rare opportunity to relate a specific historical event to its depiction in rock art."

Traditionally, assigning dates of origination to prehistoric Native American art has been extremely difficult, because Native American tribes lack written languages and there is little continuity in their cultures and folklore.

"Quantitative methods such as carbon-14 dating are alternative means to assign ages to works of prehistoric art," said Barentine, who studies Southwest archeology as a hobby. "But they lack precision of more than a few decades, so any depiction in art that can be fixed to a specific year is extremely valuable."

He admitted, however, that "Without my background in astronomy, I probably wouldn't have recognized the petroglyph for what it might represent."

To support their hypothesis, Barentine and Esquerdo created an accurate model of the night sky on May 1, 1006, which shows the relative position of the supernova with respect to the constellation Scorpius matches the relative placement of scorpion and star symbols on the rock.

Petroglyphs are among the most durable and longest-lasting human art forms. They are made by cutting a rock surface using a smaller, handheld rock.

"Standing in the desert heat after studying the petroglyphs, the span of the ages hit home," Esquerdo said.

"One thousand years ago," he continued, "someone else was standing in that exact spot looking upon the depiction they created of the star they had seen in previous nights. It was the change in the sky that had brought that artist as well as us to that spot one thousand years apart."

Similar petroglyphs have been identified as likely depictions of historic astronomical events in the prehistoric Southwest. One of the most widely recognized examples is the pictograph near Penasco Blanco in Chaco Canyon National Monument, New Mexico.

There, a painted rock symbol is theorized to depict the supernova of July 4, 1054. As for the White Tanks Regional Park petroglyph in Arizona and its suspected relationship to the 1006 astronomical event, astronomers do not yet consider the results conclusive.

The next step will be to conduct chemical-dating test, which rely on the abundance of certain elements in the rock varnish. The tests could help confine the range of dates in which the petroglyph was created.

A result substantiating an early 11th century date of origin would lead considerable credence to the claim that the prehistoric symbol represents the 1006 supernova event.

Related Links
Petroglyph Images
Search SpaceDaily
Subscribe To SpaceDaily Express

  • Griffin Defends NASA Space Exploration Vision
  • Sudbury To Host Planetary And Terrestrial Mining Sciences Symposium
  • Voyager Data May Reveal Trajectory Of Solar System
  • A Voyage To The Edge Of Sol

  • Spirit Sitting Pretty On A Martian Hillock
  • NASA Awards Mars Science Lab Launch Contract
  • Opportunity Digging Out Of Dune One Klick From Victoria
  • Opportunity Gets Dug Into Loose Soil Again

  • SES Global Contracts Sea Launch For AMC-21 Satellite
  • Volvo Aero Components Powering Large Number Of Ariane 5 Launches
  • Air Force Orders More Space Launches From Orbital
  • Heaviest Ariane 5 Payload Orbits Without A Hitch

  • Free as a Bird Or Under Surveillance
  • Turkey Signs Up For Asia-Pacific Space Program
  • Ancient City Reveals Life In Desert 2,200 Years Ago
  • Commercial Remote Sensing Satellite Market Stabilizing

  • New Horizons Crosses The Asteroid Belt
  • Trio Of Neptunes And Their Belt
  • New Model Could Explain Eccentric Triton Orbit
  • New Horizons Taking Exploration To Edge Of Sol

  • Rock Carving Linked To 1,000-Year-Old Supernova Sighting
  • Astronomers Find Startling Absence Of Hot Gas In Galaxy NGC 1068
  • Supercomputers Reproduce Fluid Motions Of Galactic Cosmic Duet
  • The Case Of The Neutron Star With A Wayward Wake

  • The Sky Is Falling
  • SMART-1 Captures Central Peaks Of Zucchius Crater
  • Lunar Highlands And Mare Landscapes
  • Scientist Dreams Of Us Revisiting The Moon

  • Lockheed Martin And EADS To Cooperate On Satellite Navigation Standards
  • QinetiQ Joins Galileo Development
  • Satelinx To Equip Seniors With Location Base Devices
  • LM And EADS Space To Team On NavSat Systems

  • The contents herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2005 - SpaceDaily. AFP and UPI Wire Stories are copyright Agence France-Presse and United Press International. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by SpaceDaily on any web page published or hosted by SpaceDaily. Privacy statement