Friday, July 23, 2021

Columbus and the deception of the moon

On October 12, 1492 Christopher Columbus landed on the beaches of an island north of Cuba, becoming the first Western European to reach the American continent.

In the following years Columbus returned three more times to Central America. However, his last voyage was about to end in tragedy: the explorer managed to save all the crew thanks to his astronomical knowledge and his cunning.

On June 25, 1503 Columbus was sailing when due to an infestation of shipsworms he was forced to abandon two of his four ships and to land urgently on the beaches of Jamaica.

Initially the relations between the crew and the natives were good, but the more the days passed the more the tension and the clashes grew. After six months Columbus was still stranded on the island, part of the crew had mutinied and they were starting to get hungry.

The explorer tried to make one last attempt to get food and help from the natives. Columbus had in fact brought with him an almanac describing the Sun, the Moon and the planets and realized that on February 29, 1504 a total lunar eclipse would be visible from the island. Knowing that the natives would not have been able to foresee this phenomenon, Columbus presented himself to the chief of the tribe pretending to be a messenger of a god. He convinced the natives that this god was enraged with their people and would prove it by making the Moon change color, making it dull red.

Shortly before the end of the eclipse Columbus told the natives that the god would forgive them if they helped them by providing food and aiding in the repair. After the chieftain agreed to these conditions, the Moon returned to its normal color.

With the help of the natives, the crew were able to repair the ships and set sail from Jamaica four months later.

Credit: Jean-Paul PĂ©lissier/Reuters.

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