Old 06-17-2008, 09:00 PM Offline   #1 (permalink)



 
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Default June 18, 1178: English Monks Observe 'Lunar' Explosion

1178: Just after sunset, according to the English monk and chronicler Gervase of Canterbury, five monks watch the moon explode into flames.
Gervase said the observers were looking at a new crescent moon when the upper part "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."
Since the timing appears to have been about right, what they may have seen -- according to at least one astronomer -- was the asteroid impact that led to the creation of the lunar crater Giordano Bruno. Others doubt this theory, because there is no historical record of the subsequent meteor shower that would have been visible following a collision of this kind.
What the monks may have actually seen, the current thinking goes, was the explosion of a meteor that, from their vantage point, was passing in front of the moon.
The crater, incidentally, was named for the Italian philosopher, priest and cosmologist Giordano Bruno, burned at the stake for heresy in 1600, during the Roman Inquisition. Bruno is considered an early martyr for science, perhaps the first. The crater named for him measures roughly 14 miles wide and is located on the far side of the moon.
Gervase -- who was ordained by Thomas à Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until his murder in 1170 -- is remembered mainly for his Chronica, an ecclesiastical history of Canterbury. Gervase died in 1205.
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