Nihon Shoki is known as The Chronicles of Japan. The accurate translation would be Initial Japan or Japan’s Early Days. It is a book on Japan’s history finished in 720, which makes it the second-oldest known book on the subject. The book testifies that on the 30th of December 620, on the Japanese sky, there was a scarlet pheasant’s tail. The chronicles describe the unknown astronomical phenomenon as a sign of bad omen — ‘Red Sign of Doom.’
Since then, astronomers tried to figure what happened 1400 years ago. On the 31st of March 2020, a study was published in the Sokendai Review of Culture and Social Studies, showing proof that the mysterious event was most likely an aurora during a magnetic storm.
“Consideration of the Shape of the Red Sign in the Nihon-Shoki” is the name of the study, and Ryuho Kataoka is the researcher that published it. The research was done with the help of a team of colleagues from the Department of Polar Science in the School of Multidisciplinary Sciences at The Graduate University for Advanced Studies and the National Institute of Polar Research in Japan.
The Ancient ‘Red Sign of Doom’ in Japan Was An Aurora
The presumption of the phenomenon to be an aurora isn’t Kataoka’s idea. It has been speculated to be so by many other astronomers, but the problem was always the shape described in Nihon Shoki. Aurorae come in many forms, but pheasant tail isn’t one of them. Patches, arcs, rays, coronas, curtains, ribbons, you name it. But none of them can be confused with a pheasant tail. Unless you are Japanese and you believe pheasant to be a heavenly messenger.
As a modern Japanese researcher, you might understand that, and you might take into account that Japan’s magnetic latitude was 33 degrees in 620. These days it is 25 degrees. The 8 degrees difference might have been the explanation for the 10 degrees long tail.
The researchers looked for aurorae that may have been described as a “fan shape with a red background.” And they were, usually during magnetic storms. The color red is caused by excited atomic oxygen emissions at high altitudes. The nitrogen emissions could also explain the red color if the molecule is returning to the ground state from an excited state.
“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,” said Kataoka, explaining the ‘Red Sign of Doom.’