Moon went missing in 1761 due to major volcanic eruption

January 17th, 2009 - 2:03 pm ICT by ANI  

National Geographic

Washington, Jan 17 (ANI): New evidence has emerged which suggests that a major volcanic eruption in 1761 belched out enough dust and gas to completely blot out the moon, thus explaining the missing moon observed that year during a total lunar eclipse.

According to a report in National Geographic News, astronomer Kevin D. Pang collected evidence from the fields of geology, biology, and Chinese history to come up with the theory.

A total eclipse occurs when the moon enters completely into Earths shadow.

Lunar eclipses can vary in brightness and color based on the angle of the moons path and the composition of Earths atmosphere.

While no sunlight hits the moon directly, some gets filtered by Earths atmosphere and is bent toward the moon, causing it to shine in hues ranging from bright orange to blood red.

But when theres a large volcanic eruption, the moon can drop in brightness by a million times, or in some cases disappear altogether, Pang said.

Heavy amounts of particles in the air could explain why, in May of 1761, astronomers reported that the moon appeared very dark or disappeared altogether, even with the aid of telescopes.

An atmosphere clogged by a powerful volcanic eruption would also lead to global cooling and trigger extended bouts of strange weather, experts said.

To test his theory, Pang searched the scientific literature about tree rings and ice cores from Antarctica and Greenland.

He found evidence of a volcanic winter around the same time as the dark eclipse.

For example, sulfur dioxide gas ejected during a volcanic eruption can react with water vapor in the air to form acid rain, which then leaves chemical fingerprints in polar ice.

Furthermore, bristlecone pine trees high in the Sierra Nevada mountains experienced stunted growth and frost damage in 1761, according to Pang.

The researcher also looked through old Chinese weather chronicles from the early 1760s.

Those records revealed that large parts of China experienced an unusually bitter winter and heavy snowfall in 1761 and 1762.

According to Richard Keen, a climatologist at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Pang is absolutely correct in saying that volcanoes can darken a lunar eclipse.

A good candidate for the cause of the 1761 events is the Makian volcano on the Indonesian island of Halmahera, according to Pang.

Records show that this volcano experienced a series of eruptions beginning in September of 1760 and lasting until spring of the following year. (ANI)

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