“A catastrophe of stupendous import”

“Prof. Winslow Upton, of Brown university, one of the most learned astronomers in the country, has been busily engaged at the Ladd observatory, making photographic exposures of the constellation Perseus, in which the new star appears, and has given out an interesting statement concerning the unusual event. He says:”

―”Catastrophe of tremendous import believed to have caused appearance of bright new star.” The Detroit Free Press, Feb. 27, 1901.

Winslow Upton
Winslow Upton (1853-1914), professor of astronomy and director of Ladd Observatory

“The appearance of this brilliant star is a rare astronomical event, not equaled in the memory of anyone now living. In fact, no similar event has occurred since the time of Kepler in 1604.”

“The term ‘new star’ or ‘Nova’ is applied to stars which unexpectedly increase their brightness and then fade out again. It is not supposed that any of them are new creations, since those whose histories are best known have been observed as faint stars before the outburst which made them famous. Probably every year witnesses occurrences of this kind, but unless the increase of light is very pronounced it may not be detected among the great multitude of stars.”

“Less than twenty known instances have been recorded. In all these cases the phenomena are similar: the increase of light is rapid and the decrease slow. The most famous instance on record occurred in 1572 in the constellation Cassiopeia and in 1604 in the constellation Ophiuchus. The former star was the brighter, having rivaled Venus and having been seen in full daylight. It was visible to the naked eye at night more than sixteen months. Both of these famous star were seen before the telescope was invented. Since that time the new stars discovered have been fainter.”

supernova 1572
Star map of the constellation Cassiopeia showing the position of the Supernova (“Nova Stella” labeled I) of 1572. De nova stella, Tycho Brahe

“The present star bids fair to rival these historic ones. It was detected February 21 by Dr. T. D. Anderson, of Edinburgh, who has made similar discoveries before. It was then of the third magnitude. The region in which it appeared had been photographed five times at Harvard College Observatory during February, the last time on the 19th, and no such star appears on the plates, which show stars fainter than the tenth magnitude.”

“It is certain then that this star, which was too faint to be in any star catalogue, has increased in brightness since the 19th of February, so that it is now one of the brightness stars in the whole of the heavens. Sunday night, Feb. 24, it was nearly as bright as Capella, which is the third in order of brightness in the sky. Such an increase of light is more than 10,000 times, how much more no one knows at present.”

The New Star in Perseus
Observations of The new star in Perseus. Compiled by H.C. Wilson, Popular Astronomy, April 1901.

“If this star acts as other new stars, it will remain near its greatest brightness for a while, and then fade out of sight. Astronomers will busy themselves measuring the light changes and trying to determine their cause by the spectroscope and other instruments. At present we are profoundly ignorant on such matters.”

“Probably the star has met with a catastrophe of stupendous import, possibly a collision with some other body or bodies, perhaps an internal explosion. Should our sun increase its brightness in any such way, and its heat increase also, life on our planet would cease.”

– Winslow Upton, as quoted in The Detroit Free Press.

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