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1490 Ch’ing-yang Meteor Shower

Last Updated on 2022/01/24

1490 Ch’ing-yang Meteor Shower

The Ch’ing-yang event of 1490 (1490 年 慶陽 事件), also known as the Chi-ing-yang meteor shower (Qingyang, 陽 流星 雨), was a presumed meteor shower or air blast that occurred in Qingyang, a county at the time in Shaanxi, but today included in the province of Gansu, in the third lunar month, or between March or April 1490.

Featured image: Illustration of the Ch’ing-yang Meteor Shower

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The event is reported by at least three Chinese annuals as a meteor shower that caused several deaths. To date, it has not been fully confirmed, although that same year, Asian astronomers discovered comet C / 1490 Y1, according to some, a possible progenitor of the meteor shower. This comet would have originated the Quadrantids (QUA), which is an important meteor shower visible in January. Analyzing the Annals of the Korean Joseon Dynasty, it was in fact discovered that it was a periodic comet whose orbital path was very similar to that of the Quadrantid meteor stream.

Chinese annuals describe the event as a shower of stones from the sky. According to these reports, the victims were between ten thousand and a few tens of thousands. One such account is found in the official history of the Ming Dynasty (Míng Shǐ, 明 史), and is generally regarded as a reliable source. This text, however, does not report the number of victims.

According to the Zhongguo gudai tianxiang jilu zongji (Complete Collection of Records of Celestial Phenomena in Ancient China, published by the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 1988), there are at least a dozen works that discuss the 1490 event, including, in addition to the already cited Ming Shi, also local gazettes and chronicles.

The History of the Ming, however, does not go into particular detail. The text mentions a shower of countless stones of various sizes. The large ones were the size of a goose egg and the smaller ones were the size of the fruit of an aquatic plant.

Other sources report the deaths. A semi-official source says Shaanxi provincial officials sent a report to the central government stating that there had been a shower of stones in Qingyang County. The larger stones measured 4-5 jin and the smaller ones measured 2-3 jin. According to this source, tens of thousands of people perished in the accident. Another source instead mentions that all the inhabitants of a city were forced to evacuate.

Therefore, due to the scarcity of reliable and accurate information, scientists have not so far been able to describe or explain this event effectively, which as far as we know could have been confused with an exceptional hailstorm.

However, Kevin Yau of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory pointed out some similarities with the Tunguska event, which occurred in the skies of Siberia in 1908, causing an explosion at an altitude of about 5-10 km from the terrestrial surface, flattening an estimated 80 million trees over an area of 2,150 km2.

Sources: Wikipedia, Orbital elements of comet C/1490 Y1 and the Quadrantid shower, Meteorite deaths in Qingyang (Ch’ing-yang) in 1490

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