Cassiopeia A
and the Birth of the Merry Monarch?

Few astronomical phenomena have been as studied as the supernova known as Cassiopeia A. The remnants of this star continue to fascinate and excite not only astrophysicists and astronomers, but scholars from a wide variety of other scientific disciplines. Not least among its many puzzles is when the supernova would have been visible on Earth. Estimates vary, but the generally accepted period is the latter half of the seventeenth century.

One possibility currently being offered is that it could have been seen earlier: 29 May 1630, to be exact. This date, better known to historians as the day the future King Charles II of Great Britain was born, is also significant for a ‘noon-day star’ which allegedly appeared at his birth. While the appearance of this star is an important feature of later Stuart/Restoration propaganda, widely discussed by historians and literary scholars, its credibility as a genuine astronomical event has remained largely unexplored. Working with Martin Lunn, the former Curator of Astronomy of the Yorkshire Museum, this combined historical/astronomical investigation seeks to answer the question of what, if anything, was actually seen in May 1630. This multi-disciplinary approach combines astronomical knowledge, a critique of the current scientific thinking on dating supernovae, and historical documentary analysis. Regarding the latter, some of the more intriguing astronomical observations of the ‘noon-day star’ have been found in seventeenth-century Latin poetry produced by Oxford and Cambridge Universities. As some of these authors include notable early astronomers like John Bainbridge, this raises interesting and ongoing questions about the overlap between science and literature during this transformative period.

To date, this research has been presented at a variety of international and specialist gatherings. Two of the most recent were the 218th meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Boston, Massachusetts, May 22-26, 2011, and the National Astronomy Meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) in Llandudno, Wales, April 17-21, 2011. Previous to that, earlier stages of this work were presented at the 99th Spring Meeting of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) in Mendoza, Argentina, April 15-18, 2010, and the 23rd International Congress of History of Science and Technology in Budapest, Hungary, July 28-August 2, 2009.

Further archival research will be carried out in the UK and Ireland in 2012. This research will be partly funded by a grant from the Royal Astronomical Society.