Astronomers Solve 1400-Year-Old Japanese Mystery of “Red Sign” in the Sky
It was a night in 7th century Japan when a red, flaming light darted across the sky. Stunned onlookers would liken the phenomenon to the tail of a pheasant and consider it a bad omen, and fear its possible arrival again.
Now with modern science, we know better than to fear it. For many years, scientists couldn’t pinpoint the exact reason for this phenomenon. Some researchers have likened it to a comet, but their cases lacked any depth.
Recently, Ryuho Kataoka and his colleagues claimed a powerful Aurora best explains the phenomenon that happened in Japan in 620 A.D.
Researchers from The Graduate University for Advanced Studies adjusted their view to tackle the mystery and determined that Japan’s skies would have been more likely to host an Aurora during those times.
Back then Japan’s magnetic latitude would have been 33 degrees, while now, Japan’s magnetic latitude is 25 degrees. The pheasant tail described appeared to be about 10 degrees long according to historical literature, placing it within the area that would be affected by a strong magnetic storm.
A magnetic storm is the key here. While it is true that auroras don’t typically look like pheasant tails and rather appear in rather wave-like patterns, modern studies have shown that especially powerful magnetic storms can produce auroras featuring shapes other than those.
The study shows, "Recent findings have shown that auroras can be 'pheasant tail' shaped specifically during great magnetic storms. This means that the 620 A.D. phenomenon was likely an aurora."
Researchers hope to apply modern science to other mysterious aspects of world history that puzzled humanity once.
According to Kataoka, “This is an interesting and successful example that modern science can benefit from the ancient Japanese emotion evoked when the surprising appearance of heaven reminded them of a familiar bird.”
Excited about their findings, Kataoka says, “We hope to continue exploring this collaboration between science and literature.”
The study is published in Sokendai Review of Culture and Social Studies.