Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Two suns? No, it's a supernova drawn 6,000 years ago, say scientists (theguardian.com)
108 points by robin_reala 44 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 61 comments

That or it’s: no no no this isn’t how you draw a sun.... (grabs chisel) Now this is how you draw a sun!

The scientists themselves say that there isn’t anywhere near the amount of evidence needed to back the theory, this looks to be the same as the “Viking bracelet with Islam written on it” only later when someone one actually looks into it we find out that those characters weren’t even used in Arabic at the time when that bracelet was made.

> That or it’s: no no no this isn’t how you draw a sun.... (grabs chisel) Now this is how you draw a sun!

Wait, they invented pair programming too?

Disclaimer: Of course I should have read the article first. On the photograph of the stone, both features look exactly the same - like suns.

My second guess was a bird, because it looks a lot like the birds as used in heraldic art from ancient Egypt to modern Germany[1]. That doesn't mean the bird can't be a sign for a super nova at the same time. But the bird theory is strong, because of the Egyptian root "hr" [2], which variously means "above" and the sky god Horus, which is depicted in hieroglyphs with ... an eagle. Whether that's by direct import into asia or by rediscovery is probably mere speculation. But the term Proto-afro-asiatic alone is pretty suggestive already, nevermind that one of the reconstructed roots pertains to this word [3], although, as far as I can tell, to the other, allegedly separate but obviously not all too distantly related meanings of hr.

[1] for example https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/da/Co...

[2] at time of writing under "etymology 2" down the page https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E1%B8%A5r although I'm not convinced there is much of a distinction to be made.

[3] https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Reconstruction:Proto-Afro-Asi...

I'm just "average Joe" but my sitting-at-a-keyboard thought was that the two suns suggested an interval of or passage of time.

We could just search the sky for nebulae in the vicinity of the given constellations. That would provide evidence for the authors' theory.

The article says they attributed it to HB9, which I was able to find in a catalog of supernova remnants (warning, PDF: http://www.mrao.cam.ac.uk/surveys/snrs/table-IV-l.pdf). On page 63, it gives the coordinates for the remnant to be 5h01m, +46°40', which would put it right around the brightest star in Auriga in this sky chart: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Perseus_IAU.svg. The catalog gives the size as 140x120 arcmin (2.3x2.0°), which is huge and probably means its very faint by now, which explains why it wouldn't be included in the sky chart by S&T. Curious if any astrophotographers have managed to capture it, I searched astrobin.com and found one photo: https://www.astrobin.com/229090/B/ (edit: and a second: https://www.astrobin.com/73794/B/).

Edit: Looks like another designation for HB9 is Sh2-221, which turns up much more results in a search engine.

To which constellations? That’s the problem a hunter isn’t necessarily Orion and even Orion isn’t always depicted with a bow the sword and lion’s head is more common.

Annnd the razor win again.

Soooo... This 6000 years old carving depicts two suns and the constellations of Orion and Taurus.

Yet these constellations were invented by the Greeks, inspired from the Egyptians, and should be at most 4000 years old.

I'm not an astrophysicist but I'm pretty sure something is off.

Edit: reread the article and the stone comes from Himalaya. Yet the Indians, the Chinese and, well, pretty much every civilization had their own constellation map, that did not include either Orion or Taurus.

Orion and Taurus are "obvious" constellations: regardless of the name, the stars form a pattern.

The myth of a hunter and an animal seems to have been associated with these constellations everywhere, including India [1]. Even some Native American tribes call Orion "Hunter" [2]. I suspect this association is way older than 4,000 years.

[1] http://www.tifr.res.in/~archaeo/papers/Astronomy%20and%20San... [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orion_(constellation)#Americas

I don't think there is anything "obvious" about any constellation. They all seem like a stretch, to me. Why is Orion "obviously" a hunter and not Elvis swinging his hips?

That's not what I got from his reply. He didn't say that Orion and Taurus are obviously a hunter and animal, he said that they are obvious patterns in the sky, which is correct.

He did say that the hunter/animal relationship is everywhere, but I took that as a bit of hyperbole.

Constellations are probably much less obvious to most modern humans, what with our fancy lights we rarely get a good look at the stars.

one counter to that is the big dipper, all most all major civilizations independently associated it with a Bear.


6000 years ago hunting was more popular than even Elvis! I guess it depends on your definition of "obvious".

Orion as an asterism is obvious, as is Ursa Major and various other formations. A "constellation" with a specific name and history is a different thing entirely.

I suppose because, to people whose entire lives revolved around the hunt, a hunter makes sense.

Of course Orion could be a healer, warrior, etc. as well....

The Hindu constellation that is made out of the Orions is Mrigashira which is a Deer's head not a hunter.

Mrgashiras is a nakshatra (one of 27 800 arcminute divisions of the zodiac) not a constellation per se. The nakshatras are however associated with specific stars. Mrgashiras with Gamma Orionis (the "right shoulder" I think?" The next nakshatra Ardra (Alpha Orionis or Betelgeuse) is also in Orion.

A problem in all religions is how to explain the presence of evil in the world. One answer from the Vedas is that the creator, Prajapati (the antecedent of Brahma in later Hinduism) first created a daughter but then united with her to produce the human race. She fled from him in various female animal shapes but he became the male of the species each time thus creating all the animals. The Gods looked upon this with dismay and sent Rudra (the antecedent of Shiva. He is often portrayed as a bow-armed hunter.) to punish Prajapati for the sin of incest. Rudra hunted down Prajapati when he was in the form of a stag and his daughter a doe and pierced (castrated?) him with an arrow.

Some tellings of this story include astronomical symbolism. Rudra is Sirius. Prajapati is Orion. The arrow is "Orions belt" and the daughter is the nakshatra Rohini (Alpha Taurii or Al Deberan.) Rohini means deer in Sanskrit.

Sure, but this predates Hinduism.

Indeed but those constellations are likely older, Orion is a hunter in western astronomy because of the Greeks, the constlations differ greatly between different cultures, even in close proximity to each other in Scandinavia the Orion constellation is again focused on the belt and belt is called Frigg’s Distaff. One of the reasons for that is because of the latitude the constellations appear at different times at at a different prominence in the sky and even slight changes in perspective can have very large shift in preception especially in pristine skies. The belt is the common denominator because it’s so bright and distinct compared to the rest of the constellation.


For example, Orion's belt in ancient China astronomy/astrology:


It's regarded as three generals, nowhere close to something related to "hunters".

I'd chalk that up as poetic license and national differentiation. The contested point that most scientific history necessarily ends with Greeks or Egyptions is only due to lack of evidence and a heavy local focus in research. But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, at that scale at least.

Ancient mythology might not draw a clear distinction between hunters and generals. They're both warriors.

It does quite well, the geometrical constellation in Chinese astronomy is just the belt, whilst Hindu Astronomy constructs a Deer's head out of the Orions, the stars that make the bow and the drawing arm are not part of the Hindu constellation, hence no hunter.

Constellations are very very specific to the culture and the time.

That's your final evidence that the myths, which obviously differ in details, are not related by a common precursor? I don't think it's that easy at all.

Hunters and generals are both heroes in the respective cultures, that was the point. The significance might be that the rotation of the belt at a given time of a year might have been helpful in navigation some thousand years ago. Thus the names are not to be thought of as anthropomorphisms, but as associations, namely the stars every hero knows. And with significance to navigation its obviously possible that the myths around it would spread far along with the travelers.

Anyhow hunters and generals are far more closely related thematically, than e.g. Pisces and Libra.

In arabic it's the 3 golden seeds, you have the 3 kings/magi in the levant, in nordic mythology it's a weaving tool....

Cultures fixated on the belt for the most part, the hunter with the lion's head and the sword or the bow is the Greek version which is common in the west today.

Edit: Also I've actually fact checked, and I couldn't find the 3 generals at all in Chinese astronomy (there is the stars), but Orion (the western version) isn't a single constellation in Chinese astronomy at all.

And going by that I don't see anything relates to a hunter.



> Also I've actually fact checked, and I couldn't find the 3 generals at all in Chinese astronomy

Well that one is easy. Kinda. Chinese signs have many different readings. Looking at your link (edit: following from there to [1]), the sign used there (宿) reminds me of the signs used in xingqi, chinese chess, because the repeated use of the left part of the sign caught my eye.

The sign consists of three major parts. The lower left part of the sign is 亻 which is a short form of the obvious sign for person - 人. The rest is far to complex for me to learn on the spot. Wiktionary gives many translations for 宿 among which one means night guard duty, and one means highly regarded person.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Stars_(Chinese_constella...

Actually, 宿 means "constellation" in this context. It appears in the name of every constellation, not just Orion's belt. Its original meaning is to stay/sleep in a common house (lots 百 of people 人 under a roof 宀), usually overnight, hence the association with night guards. Chinese constellations are houses, commonly translated as "mansions".

It's the letter in the left (参) that is specific to Orion's belt, and it means "three". It's a fancier version of 三. So the whole name just means "constellation of the three".

I'm the person who suggested above that generals and hunters might be related. Having found no reference to any generals, I think this whole subthread is pointless.

Point in case regarding archers connected to spirituality and high socia sanding: That picture of an archer in combination with a sun from Assuria [1] was probably not showing just any old hunter, but a deified leader.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashur_(god)

> Having found no reference to any generals, I think this whole subthread is pointless.

I wouldn't be so quick to disregard the comment mentioning "generals". It might still be one folkloric reading.

> So the whole name just means "constellation of the three".

This could be a reduction.

> Actually, 宿 means "constellation" in this context

Maybe 参宿 was the first term using this, originally with a different poetic interpretation, reinterpreted to mean constellation.

Also, concerning houses, the sign is derived from a symbol that clearly looks like a house, but also like an up arrow. The stylized version simply looks like a roof. The sky is often metaphorically called a roof. Incidentally, I sill suspect a relation between sky, from (s)kew-, and ceiling, from kel-. If you compare this with the Egyptian hieroglyph for sky [1], there's a roof in there , too, with a bit of imagination.

[1] https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/pt#Egyptian

Orion and Taurus have been recognized as constellations for much, much longer than 4000 years, and are not Egyptian in origin.

The zodiac originates with the babylonians, but some/most of the constellations were derived from even older sources, as many as 10k+ years old, according to wiki.

Love that Tolkien's Middle Earth had the constellation, "Sickle of the Valar". In a way it took me out of the world he had created ... wait, you mean they're really on Earth?

Okay, so that proved nothing and we're dealing with fantasy.... ramble, ramble.

Have they thought the possibility that the people who draw this tried to tell a story that it took them a whole day (two suns) to kill their prey?

That was my first thought as well; this is depicting a hunting mission and their concept of the progression of time.

While a supernova visible from Earth in daytime is not impossible (when Betelgeuse finally dies we'll likely see it during the day; SN 1006 was seen during the day and at night was about as bright as a quarter moon), it certainly wouldn't be bright enough to be considered a "second sun" unless it was close enough to irradiate us with gamma rays that could do vast damage to existing life.

I am curious why this kind of speculation is taken seriously.

I mean it's just a sketch on a stone without any further documentation.

Could it not be that these were just two kids playing and drawing something random on a stone?

It's not "just a sketch on a stone" - I think you didn't read the whole theory?

1. They found a specific nebula in the position of the stars depicted by the constellations on the stone.

2. The supernova that created the nebula would have been daytime-visible (and brighter than the moon at night).

3. The time that the supernova happened lines up with about the time that the stone etching was been made.

Re: #1 the constellations of Orion and Taurus are relatively modern - 6000 years ago they would have had some other name.

I would guess that when kids draw something, they would use an easier method than carving into a stone with tools, e.g. draw with their finger in the sand/dirt. All those easier methods of drawing that I could think of do not produce artifacts that survive for millenia.

Honestly, I thought the same. We're drawing some pretty far out assumptions about ancient celestial knowledge based on a drawing on a rock. I can't imagine that everything we find is going to have some deep or scientific meaning.

My great great grandfather carved his new into a rock in northern NJ back in the 1800s and through all of the years and weather, it's still there, totally intact. True story.

If we find a close enough supernova that would have been daytime-visible and it lines up with about the time this stone drawing was made, we do have ourselves a very interesting coincidence, don't we?

That would certainly be the case, but it's probably one of the more far-fetched of many possible explanations. As another commenter wrote, a two-day hunt seems the more likely scenario

Maybe kids were drawing what they thought they saw...two suns.

Maybe each of the two kids were drawing what they thought they saw...the sun.

Occam Razor!

It's much more likely, I think, to have been a drawing of a high-current z-pinch aurora. See the meticulous research of Dr. Anthony Peratt:

Characteristics for the Occurrence of a High-Current, Z-Pinch Aurora as Recorded in Antiquity


Characteristics for the Occurrence of a High-Current Z-Pinch Aurora as Recorded in Antiquity Part II: Directionality and Source




Would a supernova actually be visible like that? The article says it would have been brighter than the moon and visible during the day? How long would it have been visible for?

No idea for how long this one was exactly (apart from short), but something brighter than the moon and visible during daytime is fairly plausible.

Some stuff out there can end up brighter than the sun, too:


Yes, if it happened within our galaxy. It has happened other times too, like this example from more recently:


I've seen two in my lifetime one in 2008 and one in 2013, both at night. they lasted about 3-5 seconds and both were at night

Those are not supernovae, which brighten and fade over a span of weeks. (The energy input of core-collapse supernovae is the radioactive decay of Nickel-56 (half life 6 days) and Cobalt-56 (77 days).)

Edit: those may have been Iridium flares that you saw.

Were you looking through a telescope or were they visible to the naked eye?

visible to the naked eye

Interesting - I wonder if this also fits with the binary research going on: http://binaryresearchinstitute.com/bri/


Scientifically, how do we know there was a super nova in 4000 BC? Is there still star remnants to observe? How do we trace that back to a date?

From the article: "They settled on Supernova HB9, a star that exploded around 4,600BC."

It is possible from observed supernova remnants to have a pretty good estimate of when the star exploded, esp. when it is relatively 'recent', astronomically speaking.

New theory. Those are clearly the car lights of a Winnebago.

Or maybe a careful plan for a hunt trip lasting for two whole days. Who knows?.

The article says "drawings". How many such drawings were found they did not say.

What about the flying dog?

The guy on the right was throwing dogs into the air for the archer to shoot, the two suns are actually dog gibs. How shooting dogs with a bow caused them to explode is still a mystery, but the deer was trying to save the last dog by attacking the archer.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2018

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact