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1110 AD was the year volcanic eruptions caused the disappearance of the Moon and sparked global famine. Pictured: representation of the Moon over a volcano. Source: Daniel / Adobe stock

1110 AD, The Year Volcanoes Vanished the Moon and Sparked Global Famine

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Scientists finally explain the Moon's mysterious disappearance and the cause of a global famine in 1110 AD.

While the opening line of this article sounds like a bait and switch classic, every written word is true, and the Moon actually disappeared from sight on 5th May 1110 AD. Now, a team of scientific researchers thinks “forgotten volcanic eruptions” might explain curious historical astronomical accounts of the Moon “vanishing.”

An unnamed Anglo-Saxon writer created the Peterborough Chronicle , a version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , which was copied and continued after the Norman Conquest , and it provides the year 1135 AD as the so-called  Final Continuation to the Peterborough Chronicle . This text records the year 1110 AD as bringing severe climatology in the form of torrential rainfall, which caused nationwide famine and that on the “fifth night in the month of May,” the Moon shone bright in the evening but as night came, it was “completely extinguished” that neither “light, nor orb, nor anything at all of it was seen.”

The initial page of the Peterborough Chronicle, marked secondarily by the librarian of the Laud collection. The manuscript is an autograph of the monastic scribes of Peterborough. (Hchc2009 / CC BY-SA 4.0)

The initial page of the Peterborough Chronicle, marked secondarily by the librarian of the Laud collection. The manuscript is an autograph of the monastic scribes of Peterborough. (Hchc2009 / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Aiming to establish what made the Moon disappear in May 1110 AD, a new study published in the journal  Scientific Reports first negates the two most obvious explanations, cloud cover or an eclipse. A Live Science article explains that if clouds had been the cause, the chronicler wouldn’t have recorded the “bright and twinkling stars,” while the Moon faded from view, and if the Moon had been eclipsed by the Earth's shadow, the writer would have seen it turning an orangey-red color, and not vanishing in the sky.

A Spectacular Astronomical Optical Phenomenon

To account for this apparently supernatural astronomical occurrence the team of scientists looked at ice core samples, which pointed to several closely spaced volcanic eruptions that may have occurred in Europe or Asia between 1108 and 1110 AD. They wrote that the “spectacular atmospheric optical phenomena” associated with high-altitude volcanic aerosols have caught the attention of chroniclers since ancient times, and they believe these volcanic events caused the apparent disappearance of the Moon.

Representation of an erupting volcano. (Ingo Bartussek / Adobe stock)

Representation of an erupting volcano. ( Ingo Bartussek / Adobe stock)

Perhaps releasing towering clouds of ash that cloaked the world’s atmosphere for several years, said the scientists, this “forgotten cluster of eruptions” is so called because of the sparsity of records pertaining to them at the time. And their suspicions that a high-altitude veil of volcanic aerosols momentarily blotted out the Moon, as is recorded in the Peterborough Chronicle, which is supported by the records of heavier than normal rains, because a series of large volcanic eruptions would have significantly disrupted the world’s climate “causing or exacerbated the cold, wet weather that made life so miserable in 1110 AD,” the researchers speculated.

Fire in the Sky Caused Charred Fields and Global Famine

Bringing their speculations into the zone of tested scientific fact, to determine the types of particles in the atmosphere in 1110 AD, the team searched for evidence of these forgotten volcanic eruptions in ice cores from  Greenland and Antarctica. An increase in sulfate aerosols was observed in both cores between 1108 and 1110 AD, and because sulfates come from volcanoes, it suggests the stratosphere was full of burnt volcanic materials.

Further to cement speculations, the team assembled 13 written historical accounts of crop failure and a global famine caused by heavy rain from the same time period, and also a study of tree rings, which expand in response to climate patterns, revealed that 1109 AD was “an unusually cold, wet year in Western Europe comparable to the effects of several other major volcanic eruptions from history.”

A Climate Catastrophe With Eastern Origins 

To have signed and sealed the ideas presented in this new paper, the scientists would have needed to find evidence of an actual volcanic eruption, and not just environmental signatures, which suggest or indicate such events, and while they admit the sources of the speculated upon eruptions remain unknown, they point towards a Japanese writer between 1062 and 1141 AD who said Mount Asama in central Japan “began erupting in late August 1108 AD” and that the occurrence lasted until October of that year. 

Mount Asama in Honshū in Japan. (Toru Shimizu / Adobe stock)

Mount Asama in Honshū in Japan. ( Toru Shimizu / Adobe stock)

This Japanese account describes “fire in the sky, scorching fields” and the team think it plausible that it might have contributed to the sulfate spike they observed in the Greenland ice core, and they also think it is feasible that this eruption polluted the atmosphere with enough aerosols to “induce the eclipse two years later, and they say it provides the best solution yet for the case of the “disappearing Moon,” the team concluded.

Top image: 1110 AD was the year volcanic eruptions caused the disappearance of the Moon and sparked global famine. Pictured: representation of the Moon over a volcano. Source: Daniel / Adobe stock

By Ashley Cowie

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