With the help of a mural at the mosque of Madani in Srinagar, researchers claim to have found the “first firm record” of a supernova event, which occurred in the Indian subcontinent centuries ago.

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

Although the original mural is now lost, some descriptions about it are available and a reproduction exists with the Department of Central Asian Studies’ museum in University of Kashmir, the journal Astronomische Nachrichten (Astronomical Notes) published from Germany said.

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

“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,” he 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 Kashmir University 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.

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

The supernova of 1572 AD was systematically observed by famous astronomer Tycho Brahe and the one in 1604 AD 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.

Explaining the mural, Dr. Aniket Sule of HBCSE, lead author of the study said, “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.

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