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Open letter to science editors

 

KRONOS Vol IV, No. 4

Vox Populi

ON THE CRAB SUPERNOVA OF 1054

To the Editor of KRONOS:

The following remarks concern the sightings of the 1054 A.D. Supernova discussed in Prof. Greenberg's criticism of Carl Sagan's "Analysis of Worlds in Collision" in KRONOS III: 2, p. 65.

In reply to the rhetorical question "[Why is it that Europe and Islam have left no record of the Crab Supernova?] ", the following information is relevant. Since records of Arabic and European sightings of the 1006 A.D. Supernova in Lupus are known, it does appear strange that the Crab Supernova of 1054 evidently went unremarked. This may be explained, however, by their relative brightness. The former was reportedly as bright as the Moon, while the latter was only about as bright as Venus. Coupling this with the following quote provides a plausible answer to the question.

It seems that the Aristotelian concept of a perfect, changeless celestial vault was firmly rooted throughout Christendom until the Renaissance. The noted historian of science George Sarton concluded: "The failure of medieval Europeans and Arabs to recognize such phenomena was due not to any difficulty in seeing them but to prejudice and spiritual inertia connected with the groundless belief in celestial perfection.''(1)

Thus, among people who were not expecting to see anything new in the sky, the appearance of a Venus-like object would probably go unnoticed while a moon-like object would more probably be noticed.

However, it now looks as though Western Europe, alone, failed to record the Crab Supernova explosion because a report of what is believed to be an eyewitness account from the Near East has recently surfaced.(2) The event was mentioned by Ibn Butln, a Christian physician of Bagdad, while residing in Constantinople. Writing in Arabic, he says: "One of the well-known epidemics of our own time is that which occurred when the spectacular star appeared in Gemini in the year 446 H. (12 April 1054 - 1 April 1055 A.D.)." For clarification, due to differing constellation definition and precession of the equinoxes, what appears in Taurus today appeared closer to Gemini in 1054. Thus, we have unambiguous, independent sightings of an extraordinary celestial event from three cultures - Chinese, Japanese and Arabic. It is clear from the contexts that the records of these sightings are indigenous to the exclusion of a diffusionary explanation.

With regard to certain pictographs and petroglyphs in the American Southwest, purported to record the Crab Supernova, this is another matter. It is possible that Sagan may have overstated the validity of these drawings which appear at several sites and show the juxtaposition of a crescent object above a star-like object. The orientation of the crescent with respect to the "star" is not uniform from site to site, casting doubt on their representing the same phenomenon.(3) Even J. C. Brandt, the most vocal investigator of the glyphs, admits that absolute dating of these pictures is impossible, although the circumstantial evidence that a crescent moon appeared close to the supernova in North America on 5 July 1054 is supportive.(4) However, strong cautionary remarks are offered by F. H. Ellis of the University of New Mexico who notes, among other ideas, that the crescent was not unique to the Moon but was also used to represent the Sun and Venus.(5) If Native Americans did record the 1054 event, the question naturally arises as to why they evidently did not similarly record the 1006 event which was also visible at their latitude and much more conspicuous.

As a closing remark, I note that in researching this communication, a reference to a Korean observation of the Crab Supernova, as mentioned by Sagan, was most elusive. At least one book specifically denies the existence of a Korean source.(6) When asked, one prominent archaeo-astronomer replied that, although he had heard of such a report, no one to his knowledge had ever verified it. Could it be that Sagan's remark is only a plausible geographical interpolation that found its way into his text? C. Leroy Ellenberger

St. George, N. Y.

REFERENCES:

1. F. Richard Stephenson and David H. Clark, "Historical Supernovas," Scientific American, 236 (June 1976):102.
2. Kenneth Brechers, Elinor Lieber and Alfred E. Lieber, "A Near-Eastern Sighting of the Supernova Explosion of 1054,"Nature, 273 (29 June 1978): 728-730.
3. John A. Eddy, "Archaeoastronomy of North America: Cliffs, Mounds, and Medicine Wheels" in In Search of Ancient Astronomies, E. C. Krupp, Editor (Doubleday, New York 1978), p. 139.
4. John C. Brandt, "Pictographs and Petroglyphs of the Southwest Indians," Technology Review, 80 (December 1977): 39.
5 . Eddy, p. 140.
6. Paul and Lesley Murdin, The New Astronomy (Thomas Y. Crowell Company, New York, 1978), p. 9.


DYNAMICS OF THE ROTATING EARTH

To the Editor of KRONOS:

In The Path of the Pole, Charles Hapgood points out a misconception quite common amongst those who deal with dynamics of the rotating Earth*....

To explain in rather different terms than Hapgood uses, there are two elements to consider regarding the stability of a rotating sphere; the orientation of the spin axis relative to the universe and the orientation of the sphere relative to its spin axis. Altering the spin axis relative to the universe is the most difficult of these by far and is the parent of most of the large numbers that have come up in KRONOS by persons dealing with Velikovskian twistings and turnings of the Earth. On the other hand, altering the orientation of the Earth relative to its spin axis is much easier. If the world were a perfect sphere, a single meteorite landing on its surface would be sufficient to turn it upside-down and more. A sphere is symmetric in three dimensions and there are no forces present which would cause it to prefer one orientation over another relative to its spin axis in the way that a wheel-like gyroscope does.

The Earth is not a perfect sphere, of course, and it has, in particular, an equatorial bulge which stabilizes it. Nonetheless, in comparison with changing the direction of the spin axis, it would be much more likely that a mechanism would merely reposition the Earth relative to its fixed-in-space spin axis. One could envision a complete reversal of North and South Poles in this manner, perhaps even without gross disturbances to the Earth's surface in the process ....

David Dunthorn

Oak Ridge, Tennessee

[Footnote: *Hapgood, Charles H., The Path of the Pole, Chilton Book Company, Philadelphia, 1970. See Note 4.]


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