A "new" star burst into view in 1934 in the constellation Hercules (before and after shots, top). This amazing nova, which was caused by the explosion of a layer of hot gas atop a dead star, may have inspired the creators of Superman to have the Man of Steel come from an exploding planet, says one author. A 1990s view of the expanding cloud of gas around Nova Herculis is at lower right. Superman himself exploded into American culture in 1938, with his first comic book (cover, lower left, and his original emblem at center) debuting in June.
Superman first blazed into American comics 75 years ago, bringing Truth, Justice, and the American Way to a world on the brink of war. But a star that blazed into view four years earlier may have helped establish him as a visitor from another world.
Brad Ricca, a professor at Case Western University, published a book about Superman’s creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Last year, he said that in an early version of Superman, the Man of Steel was a time traveler from Earth’s future.
Publishers didn’t buy the story, though, so the young writers continued to refine the character. And in December of 1934, a “new” star flared into view — a nova in the constellation Hercules that was easily visible to the naked eye.
The star is a binary, with a stellar corpse known as a white dwarf in a tight orbit with a faint star known as a red dwarf. The white dwarf steals gas from its companion. And as seen in 1934, that resulted in an explosion on the surface of the white dwarf, causing the star to flare to thousands of times its normal brightness.
Ricca says that Siegel and Shuster must have been among the millions who were captivated by the star. So they changed Superman’s origin — making him a refugee from an exploded planet: Krypton.
Hercules, by the way, is low in the west at nightfall. Nova Herculis has long since faded. But it could one day flare again — once again reminding us of the origins of a legend.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013
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