Today, many across the USA are watching in fascination a rare solar eclipse as the moon's shadow makes its way across the country this afternoon. These days that fascination is astronomical, but before astronomy, for much of the world it was apocalyptic. And the terror it inspired is at the root of a curious incident in 1502. Often lost in the grand saga of the conquest and colonization of the Western Hemisphere by Spain and Portugal, this incident almost doomed Christopher Columbus’ third expedition to the Americas – and would’ve set back the Spanish conquest in incalculable ways.

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