Red Crucifix sighting in 774 may have been supernova

Jun 30, 2012 by Nancy Owano weblog

(Phys.org) -- A supernova may have actually been the mysterious "Red Crucifix" in the sky that is cited in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle for the year 774. New correspondence between a university student and Nature carries interesting observations that astronomers could be looking at a previously unrecognized supernova. Historical texts like the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle have made reference to astronomical events before and a sighting in 774 told of a red crucifix in the sky in Britain during evening hours. Some say the sighting could have been what was the result of a supernova explosion.

The student making the discovery, Jonathon Allen, a biochemistry major at the University of California, Santa Cruz, simply went to the Internet looking for answers after listening to a Nature podcast about a team of researchers in Japan who found an odd spike in carbon-14 levels in tree rings. Earth is believed to have been hit by a mystery blast of , and a relic of the powerful event was found in the Japanese cedar trees. An analysis of two such ancient trees found a surge in carbon-14, a that derives from .

A supernova explodes at the end of its life in a jumble of and burns brightly for a few years before cooling and glowing for centuries. The puzzler in thinking this was a supernova was that any supernova should have been visible; there was no known record of the event around 774 or 775, the year that was indicated by the .

A PhysOrg report earlier this month on the Japanese researchers discovery noted that “There is no documented record in the northern hemisphere of a supernova at around 775.” The report notes that recent surveys of cosmic radiation show that, at this time, there were the remains of two nearby supernovae called Cassiopeia A and Vela Jr, but they were probably too far away or not powerful enough to be responsible for the carbon-14 burst on Earth.

According to the cedar-tree researchers, "With our present knowledge, we cannot specify the cause of this event..

Still curious, Allen said, “I just did a quick Google search," although knowing any investigation would be limited to religious texts and chronicles. A look at eighth century entries led him to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, accessed on an online library site hosted by Yale.

Scrolling down to the year 774, Allen found a reference to a "red crucifix" that appeared in the heavens after sunset.

A.D. 774. This year the Northumbrians banished their king, Alred, from York at Easter-tide; and chose Ethelred, the son of Mull, for their lord, who reigned four winters. This year also appeared in the heavens a red crucifix, after sunset; the Mercians and the men of Kent fought at Otford; and wonderful serpents were seen in the land of the South-Saxons.

He knew he was on to some sort of “stellar event,” as he phrased it, and there was correspondence between Allen and Nature. Astronomers are not ruling out a . The color of the so-called crucifix might indicate that the source was behind a dust cloud dense enough to scatter all but a small amount of red light.

The Nature news report of Allen’s correspondence also quoted observations from astronomer Geza Gyuk of the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. Gyuk, who has used the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to investigate past astronomical events, said that Allen might be on to something. Gyuk said the wording suggests the object was in the western skies shortly after sunset, which would mean that it would have moved behind the Sun where it could not be seen as Earth orbited the Sun. Add to that the dimness of the new star from dust, and, said Gyuk, it would go a long way to explain why no one else would have seen or recorded the event.

Explore further: How baryon acoustic oscillation reveals the expansion of the universe

More information: www.nature.com/nature/journal/… ull/nature11123.html
avalon.law.yale.edu/medieval/ang08.asp

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User comments : 10

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davhaywood
Jun 30, 2012
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Sean_W
Jun 30, 2012
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flashgordon
2 / 5 (4) Jun 30, 2012
Carl Sagan in his "Cosmos" notes that monks noted down in their notebooks a lunar impact(probably).

That's interesting because Carl Sagan notes elsewhere(I'd have to go look around for the reference) that the astronomical observation of comets data, historically, has a hugh whole in it in medieval europe. this was because the christians in charge didn't want people looking at the heavens(there's plenty of references on this from Tertulian to Saint Augustine).

There's of course so much more to say about all this!
drloko
5 / 5 (3) Jun 30, 2012
That's just revisionist history.

If you are referring to the early-mid medieval, there is little records of comets, simply because there are little written records period. This is why the 'dark ages' are named 'dark'.

If you are referring to the late medieval period, there are several records of such events in the west, complemented with drawings as well.

Finally, both references you cite, St. Augustine and Tertullian, are prior to the medieval period.
flashgordon
2.6 / 5 (5) Jul 01, 2012
I indicated that I felt that Carl Sagan's correspondence between some monks viewing some strange happenings on the moon and a possible lunar impact dated in the twentieth century is 'iffy'(that's the word I'd use for it; not revisionist).

The dark ages of Europe were dark because they regressed from the Helllenistic roman period; Greek texts had to be reintroduced in late medieval period(the translations of arabic versions of Greek books around 1060 A.D.). As I also indicated, there's so much more to say; the evidences of the christians destroying Greek knowledge to make their anti-science religion is strong; it's late; i might come back tomorrow with plenty more references and points(Gibbons "Decline and Fall of the roman empire" for one).
frajo
5 / 5 (3) Jul 01, 2012
The dark ages of Europe were dark because they regressed from the Helllenistic roman period

What do you mean by Hellenistic "Roman" period? Hellenism to be a subdivision of Roman culture?
drloko
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 01, 2012
Sorry if I jumped the gun on you. I'm not a religious person, but I've become tired of people who want to blame the church on every problem that ever occurred in history. Did the church do some bad things? Sure, but no more or less than any other large power structure in time.

Whether or not the church is guilty of destroying antiquated Greek knowledge is again a matter of argument. Your original point was that the church intentionally refused to record events in the heavens because they didn't want people looking up to the heavens. There is little evidence to support this. There are relatively few European records in this period, and many are from the church. But not because the church actively inhibited anything, but simply because there are few records in general.

The name dark ages was coined because the number of written records in the period from the eighth through twelfth centuries continued to decline.
Karoutes
3.8 / 5 (5) Jul 01, 2012
In the fifth century, the Vandals and the Goths swept Westward across Europe burning and pillaging Gaul, then turning Southward into Italy and Spain. The remnants of Roman civilization, much weakened at this point in history, were wiped out. The population that remained was largely illiterate, and Christianity ceased to exist in Europe. Ireleand and Scotland were virtually untouched, and it was the monasteries in those islands where literacy and learning, largely influenced by the openness of Eastern Roman (Byzantine) connections continued. It was monks from these monasteries that reintroduced literacy, learning and Christianity to Europe.

Eastern Christianity had regarded the sciences as revealing God, not in opposition to God. Eastern have never found faith and science to be in opposition to one another. The tension between the sciences and religion is a characteristic of Western Christian, and most recently, American fundamentalist teaching particular to the twentieth century
Graeme
1 / 5 (1) Jul 02, 2012
One possible place to look for cosmic ray signatures in the solar system is in the volcanic flows on the moon Io. The surface of Io would be subject to the full force of cosmic rays, which would cause transmutations and leave visible trails in the surface material of this moon. Thanks to the surface being modified rapidly with flows of sulfur and other volcanics, there is very likely to be buried surfaces from that time that will record the supernova activity over the last thousands of years. In the future I hope that detailed dating of the stratigraphy of Io will be established.
frajo
5 / 5 (1) Jul 02, 2012
In the fifth century, the Vandals and the Goths swept Westward across Europe burning and pillaging Gaul.

The Vandals were probably not any more destructive than other invaders of ancient times, but writers who idealize Rome often blame them for its destruction.
The remnants of Roman civilization, much weakened at this point in history, were wiped out.
Petronius Maximus who killed Valentinian III was not a Vandal.
The population that remained was largely illiterate, and Christianity ceased to exist in Europe.
Arians were Christians.
Ireleand and Scotland were virtually untouched, and it was the monasteries in those islands where literacy and learning, largely influenced by the openness of Eastern Roman (Byzantine) connections continued. It was monks from these monasteries that reintroduced literacy, learning and Christianity to Europe.

You omitted to mention the influence of the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian scholars working peacefully together in Al-Andalus.
DrMeatwad Phd
1 / 5 (1) Jul 03, 2012
So they are saying actual matter also travels as fast as light.

If the "red cross" was visible to Englanders shortly after sunset, so it would be all over the northern hemisphere. So the authors quip "it would go a long way to explain why no one else would have seen or recorded the event" seems rather strange, myopic in opinion. How many other sources are out there for a gamma ray increase?
Urgelt
5 / 5 (1) Jul 03, 2012
While "Hellenistic Roman Empire" sounds like a revisionist's ideological coinage, it's true that the Romans borrowed tons of ideas from the Greeks, not excluding almost the entire Greek pantheon. Later on, they stole IP from the Jews and popularized monotheism.

Thus the Romans were early examples of IP pirates. They didn't pay the Greeks or the Jews for their intellectual property.

I have it on good authority from the recording and movie industry trade groups that protecting IP is *the* essential feature of a civilized state. The Romans didn't qualify, and so I'm going to indulge in a little revisionism myself: all eras prior to modern US copyright and patent law were the 'Dark Ages,' Rome never 'fell' since it was never 'civilized,' and now we are moving towards the 'Age of Enlightenment,' where everyone will pay wealthy interest groups for every photon that enters their eyes.

Rejoice! Civilization has almost arrived!

(Sorry for the off-topic post, I couldn't resist.)