In 774 AD, to the shock of the Anglo-Saxons, a giant red crucifix lit up the night sky right after the sun had set. They took it as a sign from the heavens in the midst of the chaos that surrounded their people. They had just deposed Alhred of Northumbria, who had ruled them for nine years, to put a child king on the throne. Surely this burning red cross in the sky was a sign from God.
Documentation of this scarlet crucifix in the atmosphere was not discovered until 2012, when Jonathon Allen, a student at UC Santa Cruz, found it in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. What prompted his dive into historical texts was news that a Japanese team of scientists had discovered creepy signs of a prehistoric radioactive blast in cedar trees that dated exactly 774 CE.
Could the red cross in the sky in 774 CE be correlated with the freakishly high amount of radioactivity discovered in the rings of trees? Scientists in the 21st century seem to think so. Several theories and explanations abound for the possible connection between the two. This list will break down the sighting of the burning cross in the sky and its possible connections to radioactive blasts. Read on to quench your thirst for science, history, and mystery!
But Wait, How Does A Supernova Affect Carbon-14?
When a supernova explodes, high-energy radiation hits the upper layer of the Earth's atmosphere. Depending on the size of the blast, this energy can speed up the rate at which carbon-14 is created. In other words, the more powerful the blast, the higher the levels of carbon-14 found in organic material on Earth.
So Was A Supernova Responsible For The Red Crucifix And The Radioactive Blast?Photo: NASA/L. Rudnick / Wikimedia Commons
History has documented at least two supernovas that have exploded in the vicinity of Earth. One went off in 1006, and the other blasted onto the scene in 1056. Each emanated a light that was bright enough to be seen in the daytime for weeks. Sounds pretty powerful, right? In reality, it actually isn't. Even these two stars didn't have enough juice to make carbon-14 levels in trees go haywire.
Which raises the question: was a supernova actually responsible for the scarlet cross in the sky and for the crazy radioactive levels found in trees? Well, the thing is that supernovas don't typically come in crucifix form - not many cosmic events do. A cloud of mystery surrounds this shape, but ironically, a cloud might just hold the key to cracking the code.
A Dust Cloud Kicks Up A Possible Explanation
Jonathon Allen, the student from UC Santa Cruz who found the Anglo-Saxon reference in the Chronicle, had a hunch that the supernova that caused the red crucifix was hidden behind a dust cloud. This would explain why only a few slivers of red light seeped through and why modern astronomers were unable to see it.
Geza Gyuk, an astronomer at Chicago's Alder Planetarium, believed that Allen was onto something. According to Gyuk, the passage from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles hints that the crucifix appeared in the western sky after sunset, indicating that it had fallen behind the sun. A dust cloud would've dimmed the star's light further, making it even more difficult to see. But this reasoning only holds up if Allen's interpretation of the Chronicles is correct, and it still doesn't explain the insane radioactive levels found in the trees dating back to 774 CE.
Multiple Interpretations Of The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles Surface
Allen wasn't the first person to take a look at the red crucifix section of the Chronicles. In 1870, John Jeremiah proposed that the same passage was a description of the Northern Lights. Others argue that the red crucifix was something even cooler, like an ice crystal. High altitudes get pretty frosty. During sunset, light can shine on these ice particles to create bands of light. Add a vertical band of light here, a horizontal one there, and boom! There's a red crucifix... Or a bunch of lights that people think look like a crucifix.
This would mean that the red crucifix sighting was just Anglo-Saxons staring at the Nothern Lights. But again, it does not explain the freakishly high levels of radioactivity that occured during that year.