The Eclipse that saved Columbus

Nearly two years after sailing from Cadiz (Spain) Columbus and his crew were stranded on the north coast of Jamaica. The natives of Jamaica were no longer impressed by them and were angry and uncooperative in providing food for the crew. The situation became hostile and desperate.
Columbus was looking at almanacs called Ephemerides produced by a German astronomer and mathematician, who went by the Latin pseudonym Regiomontanus.

In it a total eclipse of the moon was predicted on February 29th 1504. Such a lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes into the Earth’s shadow.
Columbus called the leaders of the native inhabitants and warned them that if they did not cooperate, the moon would disappear from the sky the following night.
The natives just laughed at him. However, the prediction proved to be correct and the following night as the Moon rose higher, the shadow became larger until there was just a faint red disc in the sky. The natives begged Columbus to restore the Moon to the sky and after saying he would pray to God, Columbus came back and told them that the Moon would return to normal brightness in answer to his prayers. The natives brought all the food Columbus and his men needed after that thus saving them from starvation until they were rescued on 29 June 1504 just a few months later.

Last update: 7 February 2008

Copyright 2000 - 2018 © European Space Agency. All rights reserved.