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The great nova of 1918


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  • Location: Irlam
  • Location: Irlam

    On the night of 8th of June 1918, many astronomers and indeed the general public looked on in puzzlement and then amazement at a strange new star that suddenly had appeared in the constellation of Aquila. An obscure star in that constellation went nova and became the brightest nova to be seen from the Earth for centuries. At its brightest, it was a remarkable -1.4 in magnitude (Sirius: mag -1.5)

    Here's an account by Basil Rowswell.

    "From my youth, up astronomy and astronomical phenomena have had a fascination for me and on that eventful Saturday night, June 8th, as is almost invariably my nightly custom, I went out of doors about 10.40 (GMT) to look round the sky and at the weather.

    It was a fine starlight night and on gazing eastward among a number of bright, familiar orbs, I was attracted by a specifically bright one that I could not name. I knew it was not a planet and I could not think of no such bright star (just a trifle fainter than Altair, nearby) at that particular spot. I was convinced then and there that I was looking at a nova and on going indoors, settled the matter by reference to books. It was a rather startling discovery and equally a piece of rare good luck.

    The next night the increased brightness was further confirmation of the fact that a brillinat new star apparently suddenly blazed out. The question was: When had it be first seen? for no outside news of the discovery had so far come. I had to wait for the answer until the Tuesday morning when Monday's English papers came to hand, then I knew that I had been among the earliest to see the intruder.

    Ms Grace Cook of Stowmarket was credited being the first to see the stranger light. This she did at 9.30pm GMT and rather more than an hour later I was fortunate enough to detect it myself. Had I telegraphed my discovery to Greenwich Observatory on the Sunday morning I should perhaps have figured with other observers in the Astronomer Royal's letters to the Times. But I did not do so and consequently lost the chance of honourable mention in connection with an astronomical event so exceedingly interesting and so rare."

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