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Desert Diary


It was A.D. 1054, though most of the world wouldn't know that, each region holding to its own calendar that seldom meshed with another. Yet, an event of that year tied the world together in a way seldom duplicated until the coming of the radio. Within the space of a day, Chinese sages, Roman and Mayan priests, Native American hunters and Chihuahuan Desert farmers shared, unknowingly, the same vision—a new light in the sky, visible to the naked eye, day and night.

The Chinese recorded it carefully: 23 days of daytime visibility and 653 nights before it faded from view. Rock art in New Mexico and Arizona may record the same event. But it would be centuries before a natural cause would be assigned—supernova!

A star's nuclear fuel runs out at the end of its lifetime. In especially massive stars, this allows the star's core to collapse, releasing energy in a tremendous explosion that hurls the star's outer parts into space. Today's Crab Nebula originated with that light on July 4, A. D. 1054.
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.