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]

Observations[edit]

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.

Longitude[edit]

Columbus was maybe the first to put into practice an idea proposed by Hipparchus, to use a lunar eclipse to determine one's geographical longitude. A lunar eclipse is visible across half the globe, and everyone sees it begin and end at the same moment. But the times when measured in the local solar time will differ, because everyone is in a different timezone. The local time is determined by observing the rise, culmination, or setting of the Sun. Now an almanac will predict an eclipse for some place at a certain geographical longitude at a specific local time there. The same event observed elsewhere will occur at a different clocktime. The difference in time is proportional to the difference in geographical longitude, by 15 degrees per hour.

Columbus had no accurate means to determine how far he had travelled West on the globe. He observed the lunar eclipses of 15 September 1494 near Hispaniola (Dominican Republic), and that of 29 February 1504 from Jamaica. In the latter case he reported in his journal that Jamaica was 7 hours and 15 minutes from Cadiz in Spain - well on his way to China. However his site at Jamaica is actually at a longitude 4 hours 44 minutes from Cadiz. How Columbus could make such a large error of 212 hours remains puzzling, but D.W. Olson proposed a reconstruction [10].

Columbus presumably used the Calendarium from Regiomontanus. This almanac gives the time of mid-eclipse at Nuremberg, but if Columbus erroneously interpreted the listed time as that of the beginning of the partial eclipse, then his 212h error could be explained. One can imagine that such false evidence confirmed Columbus in his belief he had reached China, overlooking the fact that he discovered an entire unknown continent.

Visibility[edit]

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]

Notes[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.
  10. ^ D.W. Olson, "Columbus and an eclipse of the Moon", Sky & Telescope, October 1992, pp. 437..440

References[edit]

External links[edit]