In 1437, Korean scientists watched a star go nova. Modern scientists finally found it.

As any historian of medieval East Asia or player of Civilization V: Brave New World will tell you, 15th century Koreans were really, really, really good at science.

A statue of King Sejong the Great in Seoul. Thanks, guy! Photo by Republic of Korea/Flickr.

Under the judicious rule of Sejong the Great, the kingdom's top researchers spent a lot of time looking at space and making maps of it.


In 1437, during one of these looking sessions, a bunch of scientists thought they discovered a bright new star, one that easily outshone everything else in the sky (eat it, Luyten 726-8A).

14 days later, it disappeared.

Unbeknownst to the ancient sky-watchers, the "new star" was not new at all. It was, instead, what's known as a "classical nova" — an ultra-dense, white dwarf star that sucks so much matter off a neighboring star it causes a giant, nuclear explosion. The star gets super bright for a short period of time before once again fading into the cosmic background — like a stellar version of Pokémon GO.

The problem is, 15th century Korean scientists didn't exactly keep the best records. For starters, it was the 15th century, and pretty much everyone had rickets. Also, the modern Korean alphabet wouldn't be invented for another seven years.

You'll be shocked to learn the location of the star that went nova was lost to time.

Until now.

After 580 years of searching, a team of researchers from four continents has finally located the star, making it the oldest such nova to have its location accurately documented.

Lead researcher Michael Shara had spent nearly 30 years looking for remnants of the stellar explosion, known as Nova Scorpii. (A great name for any Dutch speed metal band that might be looking, btw. Don't sleep on it!)  

Shara told The Atlantic's Marina Kornen that attempting to locate the site had been like "searching for a needle in a billion haystacks." Initially, the American Museum of Natural History curator and his team believed they'd find the nova between two stars in the constellation Scorpio. With the aid of online astronomical catalogs, which weren't a thing the first time Shara looked back in the 1980s, the astronomers combed through records of hundreds of millions of stars until, eventually, they focused in on a planetary nebula near the original search area.

In a classic "That's no moon, it's a space station" moment, the team rapidly realized that the nebula was the nova — or at least the remnants of it. They had been looking between the wrong two stars the entire time.

The team published its findings in the August edition of Nature.

"When we relaxed our criteria as to where to look in the constellation, we found the nova in 90 minutes," Shara told Space.com.

Image by K. Ilkiewicz and J. Mikolajewska.

This 2016 image, taken by a telescope in Chile, shows the star — indicated by two long, red hashmarks — surrounded by the cloud of hydrogen it ejected in 1437. The smaller red "plus sign" in the center shows the star's location at the time it went nova almost six centuries ago.

Thanks to research by Shara and others, we know a lot more about novas than we did in 1437 — and even more now that Nova Scorpii has been tracked down.

In addition to classical novas, astronomers have observed frequent "dwarf novas" — much smaller explosions — across the visible universe. Shara has long suspected that both types of novae arise from the same star systems at different points in time rather than from different systems altogether.

Images from the 1930s and '40s, published in the paper, show the star pair that produced the 1437 nova undergoing a series of dwarf novae — lending Shara's theory some weighty backup.

Whether you specifically care about the dynamics of matter exchange in binary star systems of not, it's hard to deny that — holy crap — this is amazing.

Image by tyrogthegatekeeper/Wikimedia Commons.

When those 15th century Korean astronomers looked at the sky, they knew they were witnessing something important about their universe.

With the right tools, some tenacity, and a bit of luck, human beings have made it possible to find out what that is. Even after a 600-year search.

Science, then, as now, totally rules.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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