What Was Up There?
June 18, 1178: Five Canterbury monks observe “fire, hot coals, and sparks” bursting from the Moon’s surface. We will assume the men’s observations were not meant as a hoax, but were true events chronicled from the night in question. They recorded their sightings to the abbey’s chronicler, Gervase. They observed “two horns of light” emitting from the shaded portion of the Moon. The men did not claim it to be anything else; it was amazing enough on its own.
In 1976, geologist Jack B. Hartung proposed the vision was the result of the formation of the crater Giordano Bruno. This is an impact crater on the far side of the moon, just past the edge of observable moonscape. The crater is 14 miles in diameter and is a young crater, as estimated from the ray system in the surrounding surface. It has not been extensively eroded and extends for about 95 miles. The crater would have been formed by a meteor about a half-mile to two-miles wide. Such a strike would throw 10 million tons of ejecta into our atmosphere. This last feature is what led modern scientists to question the exact nature of the monks’ observations.
There would have been at least a week-long “blizzard-like” meteor shower on the home planet. There were no accounts of such events in the week following the observed phenomenon. The monks religiously recorded their data from the night in question with these words: the new crescent Moon “suddenly split in two. From the midpoint of this division a flaming torch sprang up, spewing out . . . fire, hot coals and sparks. . .The body of the moon, which was below writhed. . .throbbed like a wounded snake.” The wondrous sight repeated dozens of times that night.
However, there was no follow up reports of meteor showers either in England or the rest of the world. So what did the monks see? It is highly likely they witnessed a meteor explosion in the high atmosphere. Meteors appear to the naked eye at about 45-75 miles up in the atmosphere. Because of the laws of perspective, the monks witnessing a meteor explosion from their vantage point on Earth, would seem to be witnessing an event on the Moon rather than in Earth’s atmosphere. Only a small portion of Britain would have the same perspective which accounts for no other areas with astrometry records showing the same event.
I think they happened to be at the right place at the right time to look up in the sky and see a meteor that was directly in front of the moon, coming straight towards them. – Paul Withers
Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world. – Arthur Schopenhauer
There are truths on this side of the Pyranees, which are falsehoods on the other. – Blaise Pascal
What we see depends mainly on what we look for. – John Lubbock
Also on this day:
Mental Institutions and Being Governor – In 1959, Governor Earl Long was committed to a mental institution.
Taxi! – In 1923, the first Checker Cab rolled off the assembly line.
One Woman – No Vote - In 1873, Susan B. Anthony was found guilty of trying to vote.