All posts by Callum Tyndall

Astronomers rediscover ancient ‘lost’ nova first spotted six centuries ago

A team of astronomers have pinpointed the location of a nova that was last seen almost 600 years ago.

In 1437, Korean astrologers spotted a bright new star in the tail of the constellation Scorpius and observed it for 14 days before it faded from view. Studying the ancient record made by the Royal Imperial Astrologers, modern astronomers determined that what they had seen was a nova explosion but, until now, they were unable to find the binary system that caused it.

“This is the first nova that’s ever been recovered with certainty based on the Chinese, Korean, and Japanese records of almost 2,500 years,” said the study’s lead author Michael Shara, a curator in the American Museum of Natural History’s Department of Astrophysics.

An image of the nova, which was first identified in 1437, taken with the Carnegie SWOPE 1-meter telescope in Chile. Image© K. Ilkiewicz and J. Mikolajewska. Above: a Korean star chart (rotated) first created in 1395, and reproduced in 1687. Image courtesy of Seoul National University / National Geographic Information Resource Map Museum

A nova is essentially a hydrogen bomb on a gigantic scale, produced in a binary system where a star is being devoured by a white dwarf (a dead star). Over roughly 100,000 years, the white dwarf builds up a critical layer of hydrogen that it then blows off, producing a burst of light that can make the star up to 300,000 times brighter than the sun for any period from a few days to a few months.

Shara has tried to locate the Korean nova for several years, teaming up with Durham University’s Richard Stephenson, a historian of ancient Asian astronomical records, and Liverpool John Moores University astrophysicist Mike Bode.  Their recent success came after expanding the search field and discovering the ejected shell of the classical nova. The finding was confirmed with a photographic plate from 1923 taken at the Harvard Observatory station in Peru.

“With this plate, we could figure out how much the star has moved in the century since the photo was taken,” Shara said. “Then we traced it back six centuries, and bingo, there it was, right at the centre of our shell. That’s the clock, that’s what convinced us that it had to be right.”

Photographic plates of the nova taken over six weeks in 1942. Image ©Harvard DASCH

The Peru plate is available online as part of the Digitizing a Sky Century at Harvard (DASCH) project and it was other such DASCH plates that helped reveal the system has now become a dwarf nova. The discovery supports the idea that novae go through an incredibly long-term life cycle, fading for thousands of years after eruption before slowly building back up to full-fledged nova once more.

It was previously believed that “cataclysmic binaries” – novae, novae-like variables and dwarf novae—were separate entities, but the rediscovery of this ancient nova as a dwarf suggests instead that they are one and the same, but at different stages in their lives. Following an eruption, a nova becomes nova-like, before taking the form of a dwarf nova.  Then there may be a period of hibernation, after which it becomes nova-like again and then a fully fledged nova. This cycle repeats, potentially up to 100,000 times over the course of billions of years.

The study, which is published in the journal Nature, was based on observations from the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), and the Las Campanas Observatories’ Swope and Dupont telescopes.

AR at work: Four of the best applications for Google’s Glass Enterprise

After experiencing somewhat of a flop with its initial consumer-focused release, Google Glass has returned with Glass Enterprise Edition. Partnering with several businesses, and across a variety of industries, Google has refocused the device on fulfilling more industrial applications. While the actual changes to Glass are fairly minimal – essentially the core components have been upgraded to reflect the four years since initial release – the main shift is in the intended audience for the device.

It’s probably fair to say that the aesthetic didn’t help with the consumer launch of Google Glass, but – probably more overtly – the device didn’t find the necessary audience because the asking price was far too high for the actual functionality offered. The audience for a high-cost consumer augmented reality (AR) device wasn’t, and probably still isn’t, particularly huge.

Bringing Glass to industry, however, makes a lot of sense; Google is far from the first to see the benefits that AR can offer to industrial applications. Below, we profile some of the best ways the new Enterprise edition is likely to be used.

Google Glass is bringing augmented reality to healthcare

Partnering with Augmedix, a company providing a remote documentation service for doctors, Glass allows doctors to double the amount of time they spend interacting with patients, according to Glass client and health system Dignity Health. Principally, this is done by cutting down on the amount of time spent documenting; rather than the doctors having to spend time typing up patient records and notations, they can instead trust to the remote scribe program to handle it while they focus on actually helping their patients.

This is potentially only the start, though. Doctors require access to vast amounts of information and the healthcare process can often become bogged down by administration and documentation. Augmedix takes the pressure of some of that documentation off doctors, but Glass could be put to further use if it was access all those records as easily as it adds to them. Rather than a doctor having to pore through documents, they could instead be easily pulled up directly in their Glass. By streamlining doctor’s interaction with records, Glass could allow them to better focus on and help their patients.

Manufacturing may be the best use of Glass Enterprise

Manufacturing possibly offers the best case study for how Glass Enterprise can help to improve an industry, with the foremost example probably being the work that has gone into the partnership between Glass and GE Aviation. Approaching how to increase the efficiency of a business that handles the complex and specialised maintenance of aeroplanes, Glass partnered with Upskill to provide a custom AR software package known as Skylight.

Whereas mechanics would previously have had to stop to consult computers or sift through enormous manuals, Glass Enterprise can put all that information right in front of their eyes. More than just stopping them from going down a ladder to read the required information, though, the Glass/Skylight combo can pull up videos, animations and images so that a mechanic can see exactly what they need to be doing. According to GE, the introduction of Glass both reduced errors at key points in the assembly and overhaul of engines, and improved its mechanics’ efficiency by 8–12%.

Glass is bringing augmented reality to logistics

Image courtesy of Ubimax

The principle advantage that Glass offers is the ability to free up the hands of workers and provide real-time information, often with additional visual formats. This has been put to use in the logistics industry with DHL and its supply chain process. Increasing the business’ supply chain efficiency by a reported by 15%, Glass helps the company fulfil orders by letting workers know in real-time where items need to be placed on carts for shipping.

Across industry, Glass Enterprise can create a constant flow of information that is easily available to workers and can turn a warehouse environment, for example, into a far more efficient workplace as hands-free technology keeps workers constantly updated. By combining Glass with Ubimax’s Vision Picking solution xPick, companies are able to speed up their processes and reduce error rate simply by making it so that all the information that could possibly be required is always available and directly sent to the worker’s eyes.

Glass Enterprise could help the military and emergency services

Image courtesy of US Army illustration

Perhaps a distraction in the middle of an emergency situation, AR nevertheless offers a wide variety of helpful applications to those in both the military and emergency services. In both cases, the advantages offered by a device such as Glass are focused around being able to expand the information available to a user at any time. Even if just for training, having more information available to a user in a more dangerous field such as the military can only be a good thing.

As with other industries, the transformative aspect provided by Glass is the ability to provide users with vast amounts more information than they may otherwise have and keep them updated in real-time with new knowledge and instructions. Providing strategic overlays and ensuring that users in dangerous lines of work are kept provided with the most up-to-date information available could make some form of Glass Enterprise a crucial tool to those in the military and emergency services.

However while the US military in particular is making use of AR, there are no specific Glass partnerships around yet. But watch this space: a Glass Battlefield Edition may not be far away.