Waiting for the nova

by Doug Muir on June 15, 2024

“You’re always building models. Stone circles. Cathedrals. Pipe-organs. Adding machines. I got no idea why I’m here now, you know that? But if the run goes off tonight, you’ll have finally managed the real thing.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“That’s ‘you’ in the collective. Your species.”

— William Gibson, Neuromancer

Sometime in the next 100 days, a star will explode.

The star’s name is T Coronae Borealis, and normally you can’t see it without a telescope: it’s too far away. But when it explodes, you’ll be able to see it just fine. It won’t be the brightest star in the sky, or anything like that. But it will be a reasonably bright star — “second magnitude”, if you’re an astronomer or a nerd — in a place where there was no star before.

It won’t last, of course. The new star — “nova” is the term, which of course just means “new” in Latin — will shine for a few days, then gradually fade back into obscurity.

Maybe you’ve heard of a supernova? Okay, so this isn’t that. This is it’s less spectacular little cousin, the plain and simple nova. A nearby supernova would light up the sky, potentially glowing as bright as the full Moon. This will just be a middling bright star that will (to our eyes) appear from nowhere and then, over a few days or weeks, fade away.

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