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Nova Herculis, Discovered in December 1934, Varies From First to Thirteenth Magnitudes--Now Fading, About Sixth

Amateur Observers Organized to Watch Nova Every Hour for Six Months


In the reign of the Emperor Valentinian, there occurred in an obscure part of the heavens, an explosion to which the eruption of Vesuvius was but as the striking of a match. Columbus discovered America and Washington fought the Revolution in complete ignorance of the cataclysm. Not until the year of grace 1934 did J. P. M. Prentice of Stowmarket, England, first observe the results of the convulsion, known to men as Nova Herculis. Over 10,000 observations of its progress have been made since, according to Leon Campbell instructor in Astronomy at the Observatory.

From its discovery on December 13, 1934, at the third magnitude, it rose rapidly to the first magnitude, reaching this point on December 22. Then it slowly lost brilliance until it had descended to the thirteenth magnitude about the middle of May. It started to increase again from this point until it reached seventh magnitude about July 1. Since then, it has fluctuated between magnitudes 6.8 and 7.3 It is now gradually fading away, but will probably remain visible with a four to five inch telescope for a number of years.

The progress of this Nova very much resembles that of Nova Aurigi, which appeared in 1891. Observations of the more recent one are much more complete, however. This is explained by the improved organization of amateur observers today. Observations were made at least every hour for the first six months after the Nova's appearance by correlated stations all around the earth, thus assuring darkness at atleast one observatory every hour. In recognition of the work of Prentice, himself an amateur, the American Association of Variable Star Observers conferred upon him a gold medal last June.

Trained scientists, too, have been carefully observing the Nova's fluctuations. In July, Dr. Gerard P. Kuiper, Lecturer in Astronomy, observed at Lick Observatory, California, that the Nova appeared to be taking the form of a double star. The gases around the nucleus take an eliptical form which we see from the side as a straight line, or nearly so. As nebulous matter appears thicker at the ends, these points appear brighter. The nebulous cloud is so bright as to dominate all light from the nucleus itself.

The appearance of this Nova, according to Campbell, has made available much more date, both visually and spectrosopically, than any previous appearance of a Nova. This may lead to an explanation of what takes place in the interior of a star. Most stars are not in such a state of flux, and conceal their interiors with clouds of luminous gases, but Nova Herculis represents a remarkable example of stellar activity.

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