Previously in ‘The Green Children of Woolpit, Part 2’ (ON, June 26th, 2022) and in ‘The Lunar Farside’ (ON, 4th June 2023), I mentioned the apparent multiple impact event on the lunar Farside in 1178, and while the late Carl Sagan had said it was an extraordinary coincidence that the event should have occurred and been witnessed within the span of human history, I had to cope with its happening at the height of the Green Children mystery, and having such odd features that it appeared to be artificial. When I was researching my book Children from the Sky, the late Danny Kane had asked, ‘What was happening in the sky at that time?’, and the enquiry proved worthwhile. In particular, many of the strange events happening on Earth appeared to be correlated with powerful display of aurora in the sky. They happened during the most violent solar activity since the Bronze Age, demonstrated by tree-ring patterns, naked-eye sunspots and other evidence. That had considerable bearing on the idea that the story involved matter-transmission from here to another planet, with a human settlement on it. As I’ve often said, I can scarcely believe what I’m looking at, but it appears to be extra-terrestrial abductions, for experimental purposes, with the knowledge if not the active collaboration of at least some of the terrestrial authorities – ‘The X-Files in the 12th century’, and beyond.
These apparently connected events continued until the 1360s, when there were appearances and disappearances on the continent, accompanied in the same decade by big auroral displays in the sky.
Although quiet by comparison with the 1170s, solar activity was on the rise from 1361 to 1402, with naked-eye sightings of sunspots again, and a corresponding rise in carbon-14 ratios at the end of the ‘Wolf Minimum’ (Fig. 1). And under 1361 or 1362, recorded by “a certain monk of Malmesbury” and copied by other chronicles:
“In this year on the 25th day of the month of February in the middle of the night there appeared from thin air a certain glowing cloud like a fire, by which men could see small stones and grains of sand at their feet, and they could thread a needle at midnight because the light was so great; which cloud caused great fear to the beholders.” (Frank Scott Hayden, ed., Eulogium (Historiarum Sive Temporis): Chronicon ab Orbe Condito usque ad Annum Domini M.CCC.LXVI, a Monacho quodam Malmesburiensi Exaratum, Rolls Series No.9, Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green, 1863.)
In 1366, on 12th January, John of Reading recorded, “after sundown till it rose again, a great redness covering the whole firmament; now bloody, now fiery white, beams were emitted backwards from it, illuminating the earth and its buildings just as if day were dawning. In which the stars twinkled more than usual…” (C.E. Britton, ‘A Meteorological Chronology to AD 1450’, Geophysical Memoirs, 70, VIII, Meteorological Office, 1937.)
Later that year, however, the lid came off – a metaphor the Malmesbury monk would probably have used if he knew it.
“In this year, on the 22nd day of the month of October, with Dawn appearing and the Moon shining as if Full, burning torches were seen in the firmament, more of the colour of blood than of fire, descending from the globe of the Moon, extending to the west where the Full Winter Moon is usually found, emitting burning flames here and there in opposite directions, hurling burning darts to the North and northern regions. Also more than a hundred stars were seen to fall from the sky although no star in the heavens appeared to be missing. This was seen in Oxfordshire, in Gloucestershire, in Wiltshire by more than three hundred people.”
The Earth encounters fifty or so meteor showers every year. When a comet passes close to the Sun, dust particles are driven off, sometimes forming a separate ‘dust tail’, because dust grains move slower than gaseous ions under sunlight pressure. Diffracted sunlight can make dust tails appear red, and as relative motions often put a curve on a comet’s tail, it didn’t take much mediaeval imagination to see a bloody scimitar in the sky and predict disaster for Christians in the Holy Land.
Dust spreads along the comet’s orbit, and if the Earth’s orbit intersects it, there’s a meteor shower. The meteors are on parallel tracks, but perspective makes them seem to come from a single point in the sky called the radiant. The constellation containing the radiant gives the shower its name: meteors from Comet Tempel-Tuttle are called the Leonids, and they now come in November, due to planetary perturbations and to changes in the calendar – but in mediaeval times, they were in October.
A meteor shower might share the sky with an aurora, but if it keeps happening, that’s more remarkable. The Gesta Stephani records simultaneous meteors and aurora in 1138, confirmed by John of Worcester, and that too was in October – just after king Stephen had besieged and taken Bedford. The meteors were almost certainly Leonids: techniques developed by Drs. David Asher and Robert McNaught now allow Leonid storms to be predicted very accurately, and the 1138 event was probably on October 13th – although, oddly, the known meteor stream would have struck at 11 a.m. and not been visible in Britain.
The Leonids travel in narrow streams close to the comet and major displays occur at 33-year intervals when Tempel-Tuttle swings past the Sun (Fig. 3). In 1966 there were displays over the USA before dawn, though nothing was seen in Britain. There were signs that the next 33-year peak would be big – in November 1997 several satellites suffered minor damage – and in 1998 there was a major storm over Britain, a year and a day ahead of schedule. But on November 17th, 1999, from Dumfriesshire, I counted 226 meteors in an hour. On November 18th, 2000, when the Moon’s position virtually coincided with the Leonid radiant, conditions in Scotland were cloudy, but any meteors would have seemed to be coming from the Moon, like the 1366 ones. There’s small chance of that at the same time as an auroral display, unless the Sun is very active at the time.
In October 1366, the ‘burning torches’ were “descending from the globe of the Moon, extending to the west where the Full Winter Moon is usually found”. In the Julian calendar then in use, the Full Moon was on October 19th. So it would have been on the wane by the 22nd, and in the west at dawn, as described. The date is early for the Leonids, but the Taurid meteors also occur during October, especially in the first two weeks (Fig. 4). They come from the short-period Comet Encke, possibly a survivor from the break-up of a super-comet around 3000 BC. The October ones are not currently associated with major displays, keeping up “a drizzle through most of the month”– though from time to time that includes bright fireballs – but when the Earth crosses the dust stream in June, that shower is much more intense, and may have included the multiple fragments which hit the lunar Farside in 1178. So a big Taurid display in October 1366 is possible.
But “emitting burning flames here and there in opposite directions, hurling burning darts to the North and northern regions. Also more than a hundred stars were seen to fall from the sky…” (my emphasis)? Auroral displays are centred on magnetic north, normally. The Moon has no magnetic field of its own, but this description reads as if the Moon had temporarily acquired a magnetic field much more intense than the Earth’s, or that a very highly charged, conducting stream of particles was being projected from the Moon towards the Earth. It couldn’t be coming from the Sun past the Moon, because they were on opposite sides of the sky.
“In the same year on the 8th day of the month of October, at daybreak, burning torches were seen to flock together in the firmament, travelling here and there, extending from the lunar globe to the Earth, one as thick as a human arm and up to three cubits long, one up to six, one up to twelve, with very sharp spikes at their upper tips, thickening all the way to the bases, made in the form of wax tapers, but a hundred times thicker, showing proportionate length. For this vision lasted for two full hours, as was related to us by two brother monks who were travelling at that time, nor can this be called what the astronomers call a lunar eclipse, because in no part was [the Moon] damaged nor its light obscured, but by its clear light stars were seen to fall, although in all the sky no star appeared missing; however that was seen by many to light up the void below the firmament as much as if someone was searching with a burning torch inside a dome or hollow place, looking through windows or chinks, so from within there appeared such great burning beams with very sharp upper tips, more extended in many fine points, gradually diminishing until consumed from the South and West to the North and East crossing by slow steps.” (Fig. 2).
Unable to measure degrees and minutes of arc, the unknown monk ties himself in knots trying to give a full account. In the 14th century ‘tapers’ were very large candles, weighing 24 pounds or more. Again it sounds like plumes of dust and ionised gas from the Moon, like the onset of the divine plague on Egypt in The Ten Commandments, causing aurorae and meteor showers as they hit Earth’s atmosphere, and shifting around the rim of the lunar disc. The 1998 Leonid peak was at New Moon, and a ‘tail’ of sodium atoms was blasted off the lunar surface towards the Earth, propelled by sunlight and the solar wind. Transient lunar events caused by impacts were seen again in 1999; but the 1366 accounts seem as if the Farside was shielding Earth from the worst of intense particle beams, like the exhaust of an antimatter-powered photon drive.
The meteors were natural, though there’s at least one mistake in the chronicle. The Moon was full on October 19th, 1366, so it couldn’t have “no part damaged nor its light obscured” on the 8th, when it would be a crescent in the evening sky and not visible at daybreak at all. It’s more likely that the date, given as octavo die mensis Octobris, should be vicesimo octavo, the 28th, as the 22nd is written vicesimo secundo. That would put the Moon east of south at daybreak, even though the effect was “gradually diminishing until consumed from the South and West to the North and East crossing by slow steps”, which sounds more like the event of the 22nd. Moving the second one to the 28th would explain why it’s chronicled after the one of the 22nd.
So the 28th meteors were Leonids, with Leo in the morning sky. Planetary perturbations have now moved the peak to November 17th, but in the 10th century, Leonid showers would be on October 20th. In the mid-1300s they’d be expected on November 5th, but the calendar hadn’t yet been reformed, so they’d be recorded on October 28th. That fits the second display to perfection; the year might seem wrong, but the comet’s period isn’t exactly 33 years, and a Chinese sighting of it in 1366 was used by Joachim Schubart to calculate it precisely and locate the comet on its brief appearance in 1965. Another method of calculation for the meteors gives October 22nd, which would fit the first one, but not both – especially if both were centred on the Moon, in which case the first stream would have to be Taurids. So the meteor events were probably on the 22nd and 28th, Taurids and Leonids respectively; but what about ‘thick tapers’, ‘burning beams’, and the shifting rayed effect like torchlight through windows?
Consecutive showers during aurorae would be surprising, since ordinarily there’s no link between the two: aurorae occur at much higher levels, in much more tenuous atmosphere, than the burn-out of a meteor. To make both displays entirely natural, we’d have to assume a Moon in Taurus during an auroral storm which happened to occur during a Taurid meteor peak, followed less than a week later by a Moon in Leo during an auroral storm which happened to occur during a Leonid peak. Other accounts indicate storms on the 21st and 23rd as well as the 22nd, and still another describes falling stars, which supposedly burned the clothes of people struck by them, on October 31st – with no mention of the Moon, which would be disappearing into the dawn by then. Perhaps all five are inaccurate accounts of the same event and the simultaneous auroral display wasn’t really centred on the Moon, as David Asher suggested (personal communication, 4th April 2001). But since the Moon’s placing in the Malmesbury accounts is apparently accurate, showing the chronicler’s taken pains to give a detailed description, he’s unlikely to have got that wrong. The ‘moving spear’ effect which he noted was remarked on by Edmund Halley in 1716, when he collated accounts for the Royal Society of the rare, intensive type of auroral storm which Halley dubbed ‘coronal’. But in coronal aurora the distinctive feature is that the arcs appear to be centred on the observer’s zenith: some 18th century accounts compare the effect to a Maltese Cross suspended overhead. If the 1366 observers had seen anything like that, they would surely have described it, rather than saying the effect was centred on the Moon which was low in the sky.
A magnetic field centred on the Moon, powerful enough to distort the Earth’s field and generate an auroral storm, might be a side-effect of a protective system for installations exposed to the meteor showers on the lunar Farside. There are a number of possible methods for that, including a satellite at the L2 point, in line with the centres of Earth and Moon, unseen from here and 150, 000 miles behind the Moon. One solution could be to anchor it to the centre of the Farside with a space elevator linking the portal to the lunar surface. Perhaps from there some kind of protective shield could be deployed over the Farside, with a magnetic field whose bow shock in the Solar Wind streamed back and impinged on the Earth’s. That’s pure speculation; but the extraordinary accounts from 1366 seem to demand some better explanation than simply to be dismissed as ‘legend’, as so many of the 19th century editors of the Chronicles did.
Children from the Sky, A Speculative Interpretation of a Mediaeval Mystery, by Duncan Lunan, was published by Mutus Liber in 2012 and is available from Amazon and through bookshops. For more details see Duncan’s website, www.duncanlunan.com.