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"At Least We Don't Behead Astronomers...Anymore"

Written by Paul Sutter on Monday, 31 July 2017. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

Solar eclipses have been happening for a long time. Humans have been around for a long time (not as long as eclipses, but pretty long nonetheless). And when folks see eclipses, they tend to want to record the event. Today we have our smartphones, and I'm sure the upcoming solar eclipse on August 21st will generate plenty of social buzz, especially for those lucky enough to see totality.

We have records of eclipses in antiquity, but as you might imagine those records are a little sparse. The earliest possible recording is actually prehistoric - a petroglyph on a monument near Loughcrew, Ireland might depict a total solar eclipse from 3340 BCE.

Our first written record is actually a story - and possibly just that, a story - about how the Chinese emperor Chung K'ang was surprised by an unexpected solar eclipse in 2137 BCE. When he found out that his royal astronomers were out partying, and hence failed to predict the event, he had them beheaded.

The astronomers who served later emperors must've learned that valuable lesson, as after that we have nearly a thousand recordings of eclipses in China spanning fourteen centuries.

About the Author

Paul Sutter

Paul Sutter

Paul Sutter is COSI's Chief Scientist. He is an astrophysicist and offers a wealth of knowledge about our universe. In addition to his COSI position, Paul Sutter is a Cosmological Researcher and Community Outreach Coordinator at The Ohio State University's Center for Cosmology and AstroParticle Physics (CCAPP).