The mysterious red sign over Japan skies

Shutterstock.com/ PaoloBruschi

There are many mysteries from years ago that remain unsolved. In the past, these strange occurrences were presumed to be messages from the Gods. Today we know that most are simply natural occurrences in science and nature. One strange phenomenon remained unsolved for many centuries, until now.

In Japan, in 620 AD a large red light spread over the country. Reports vary at the time with some comparing it to a peacock’s tail while others simply called it the ‘red sign’. At the time anything like this was attributed to higher powers and red was never taken as a positive message. Many people at the time presumed they were being punished for some bad behavior and it is likely that a few sly people used the red sign to their advantage. But what was it?

Today we know a lot more about the colors that pass through our skies. We know that the sky is not blue that it is simply that blue light molecules are scattered further because they travel as shorter waves of light. This is why at night we often have red skies because the sun is now piercing our atmosphere at a lower level scattering even more blue light which allows the longer waves of red and orange to appear. Was the red sign linked to this? 

We also know about magnetic storms and how they can cause strange colors to appear in the sky. The aurora borealis occurs when charged particles from the sun strike atoms in Earth’s atmosphere. This allows electrons in the atoms to move to a higher energy state. After the electrons fall to a lower energy state, they release extra light? Was this to blame?

For years it was impossible to know. There were no pictures or evidence of the red sign, only some written accounts of the strange phenomenon taking place. Japan is located at around 25 degrees of magnetic latitude, this means it is very unlikely to have any kind of aurora borealis over its skies, the likes that we are used to in Iceland and Scandanavian countries. 

Researchers at the National Institute of Polar Research decided they wanted to get an answer to this mystery once and for all. They looked through every historical record possible to gather as much information as they could about the strange occurrence. They then compared the findings to other known anomalies like auroras to determine if it matched. They were able to find that out that the anomaly occurred on December 30th 620. 

Their research started to lead them closer and closer to confirming it was an aurora. Although red is not a common color for an aurora to take place, it is possible and there are numerous records of red auroras happening throughout history. The peacock’s tail also made sense. During substantial magnetic storms, auroras can have the shape of a peacock’s tail so this checked out as well. 

The final piece of the puzzle was examining where Japan was situated in the world in 620 AD. It turns out that it was located at 33 degrees on the magnetic latitude back then and so with a magnetic storm big enough it would have been possible for an aurora to take place an be visible over the country.

The mystery appears to have been solved. While many would have seen the red sign as some form of condemnation it was nothing more than a beautiful display of nature. Luckily if something like that ever happens again we will know not to be afraid and that we should just appreciate it, at least I hope we will.