March 1504 lunar eclipse

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Columbus predicts lunar eclipse to the natives.[1]

A total lunar eclipse occurred on March 1, 1504 (visible on the evening of February 29 in the Americas).

Christopher Columbus, in an effort to induce the natives of Jamaica to continue provisioning him and his hungry men, successfully intimidated the natives by correctly predicting a lunar eclipse for February 29, 1504, using the Ephemeris of the German astronomer Regiomontanus.[2]


On 30 June 1503, Christopher Columbus beached his two last caravels and was stranded in Jamaica. The indigenous people of the island welcomed Columbus and his crew and fed them, but Columbus' sailors cheated and stole from the natives. After six months, the natives halted the food supply.[3]

The Moon passed west to east across the northern half of the earth's shadow

Columbus had on board an almanac authored by Abraham Zacuto of astronomical tables covering the years 1475–1506.[4][5][6] Upon consulting the book, he noticed the date and the time of an upcoming lunar eclipse. He was able to use this information to his advantage. He requested a meeting for that day with the Cacique, the leader, and told him that his god was angry with the local people's treatment of Columbus and his men. Columbus said his god would provide a clear sign of his displeasure by making the rising full Moon appear "inflamed with wrath".

The lunar eclipse and the red Moon appeared on schedule, and the indigenous people were impressed and frightened. The son of Columbus, Ferdinand, wrote that the people:

Columbus went into his cabin to "pray" and timed the eclipse with his hourglass, and shortly before the totality ended after 48 minutes, he told the frightened indigenous people that they were going to be forgiven.[3] When the Moon started to reappear from the shadow of the Earth, he told them that his god had pardoned them.[8]

In 1889 Mark Twain used an altered version of the real story of the rescue of Columbus in his novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. In that novel, Hank Morgan, a 19th-century resident of Hartford, Connecticut, after a blow to the head, awakens to find himself inexplicably transported back in time to early medieval England at the time of the legendary King Arthur. When Morgan is about to be burned at the stake, he pretends to conjure a solar eclipse that he knew was about to happen; this prediction saves his life.[8]

Another novel that used a solar-eclipse scene modeled after Columbus' lunar eclipse was Bolesław Prus' historical novel, Pharaoh, written in 1894–95.[9]

A similar plot also features in The Adventures of Tintin comic, Prisoners of the Sun.


Lunar eclipse from moon-1504Mar01.png
The eclipse was visible after sunset on February 29 from most of North America, all of South America, as well as across Europe, Africa, and western Asia on the morning of March 1.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Astronomie Populaire, 1879, p. 231, fig. 86
  2. ^ Samuel Eliot Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus, 1942, pp. 653–54. Samuel Eliot Morison, Christopher Columbus, Mariner, 1955, pp. 184-92.
  3. ^ a b "Christopher Columbus and the Lunar Eclipse". Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  4. ^ Joy Jakim, The First Americans: Prehistory-1600 A History of US Oxford University Press 2005
  5. ^ Clayton J., Drees, The Late Medieval Age of Crisis and Renewal: 1300 - 1500 a Biographical Dictionary, 2001, pp. 511
  6. ^ Djelal , Kadir, Columbus and the Ends of the Earth: Europe's Prophetic Rhetoric As Conquering Ideology.,University of California Press, 1992, pp. 67-68
  7. ^ William Least Heat Moon (2002). Columbus in the Americas. John Wiley and Sons. pp. 175. ISBN 978-0-471-21189-1. 
  8. ^ a b Joe Rao. "How a Lunar Eclipse Saved Columbus". Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  9. ^ Christopher Kasparek, "Prus' Pharaoh and the Solar Eclipse", The Polish Review, 1997, no. 4, pp. 471-78.


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