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5,000-Year-Old Rock Art Discovered In India Could Be Oldest Depiction Of Supernova

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A 5,000-year-old rock art from India is garnering the attention of astrophysicists because it could actually be the earliest known star chart ever discovered and the first to depict a supernova.

Ancient Rock Art Discovered In India

The rock art, which shows figures of humans and animals below a sky where two objects seem to be shining brightly, is said to date back to between 2100 and 4100 BC. It was found in the Northern Indian state of Kashmir.

At first, the human and animal figures were thought to be a fragment of a hunting scene. Detailed research, however, indicates that the animal and human figures actually represent patterns of stars and the two bright objects depict either the moon or sun and a supernova.

“In view of its nearly circular shape and same horizontal position of the two objects, comets, halos, and terrestrial events also seem unlikely,” the study paper stated. “We, therefore, consider the possibility that the observed object is a supernova.”

The study was published in the December issue of Indian Journal of History of Science.

Was It A Supernova?

A supernova is a massive stellar explosion that takes place during the death of certain stars. The event emits X-Rays into the cosmos, which enable scientists to date them even if they might have occurred thousands of years ago.

The team of astrophysicists from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research worked backward to study if there were any bright supernovas that could be visible from the Earth in that time frame.

Researcher Mayank Vahia found that a supernova, referred to as HB9, had exploded sometime during 3600 BC, putting it in the same time frame as the rock art. Vahia also feels that the figures could actually be depictions of constellations.

For instance, a man with a bow could actually indicate Orion. A man with a spear could depict Pisces, the attacked deer could be Taurus, and the dog in the rock art could indicate the Andromeda galaxy.

The placement of the figures in the scene is quite similar to where the depicted constellations are placed on a sky chart. This makes it quite likely that the drawing is the first known example of a sky chart and the first to depict a supernova.

Currently, the researchers have teamed up with Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts to see if they can detect a second sky chart example from the area that could corroborate with Vahia’s theory. The absence of other sky charts belonging to the same period could indicate that the theory is merely a coincidence. That's because if ancient people made one sky chart, it is possible that they made another.

Vahia, however, has confidence about more rock art emerging from the area to back his theory.

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