Christopher Columbus: Expert claims explorer saw a 'meteorite'
The Italian completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean, opening the way for European exploration and colonisation of the Americas. His expeditions, sponsored by the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, were the first European contact with the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. But the navigator got himself in a spot of bother in 1503 when an epidemic of shipworms ate through the planking of his fleet.
Columbus was forced to abandon two of his ships and finally had to beach his last two on the north coast of the island that is now Jamaica.
Initially, the native Arawak Indians welcomed the castaways, providing them with food and shelter, but soon tensions mounted.
Finally, after being stranded for more than six months, half of Columbus’ crew apparently mutinied and started stealing and attacking the locals as food supplies ran scarce.
With the threat of famine and his own life on the line, Columbus formulated a desperate, albeit ingenious plan.
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Years earlier German mathematician and astronomer Johannes Muller von Konigsberg had published a series of astronomical tables covering the years 1475-1506.
This provided detailed information about the Sun, Moon and planets, as well as the more important stars and constellations to navigate by – allowing sailors to explore more adventurous routes.
Columbus had a copy and after studying it he noticed a total lunar eclipse, or “Blood Moon” would occur on February 29, 1504.
Armed with this knowledge, three days before the eclipse, Columbus requested a meeting with the Arawak chief to tell him that his “Christian God was very angry with his people for no longer supplying him and his men with food”.
Therefore, in three nights time, Columbus promised he would “all but obliterate” the rising full Moon.
He promised to make it appear “inflamed with wrath,” which would signify the evils that would soon be inflicted upon all of them.
On that night, as promised, the Moon exhibited an eerily “inflamed and bloody” appearance.
According to Columbus’ son, Ferdinand, the Arawaks were terrified at this sight and “with great howling and lamentation came running from every direction to the ships laden with provisions and beseeching the admiral to intercede with God on their behalf”.
They promised to cooperate with Columbus and his men if only he would restore the Moon back to its normal self.
Columbus is said to have then returned to his cabin and timed the various stages of the eclipse based on Mr Konigsberg’s calculations.
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After 50 minutes he is said to have reappeared, announcing that God had forgiven them and the Moon would return.
And the Moon slowly began to reappear.
The Arawaks kept Columbus and his men well supplied and well-fed until a relief caravel from Hispaniola arrived on June 29, 1504.
Although the term “Blood Moon” is not scientific, it is still associated with total lunar eclipses today.
During totality, sunlight scattered around the edges of the planet still falls on the Moon, giving it a red tinge.
Between now and 2025, NASA predicts there will be five Blood Moon eclipses.
The next one falls on the night of May 26, 2021.
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