Monday, November 30, 2015

Medieval Eclipses

Eclipses were a mystery for awhile, but eventually enough took place that astronomers could spot the patterns. European astronomers in the 1600s were able to publish books explaining how lunar and solar eclipses took place. Prior to that, however, they were mysterious occurrences whose importance was tied to whatever was happening on the ground.

In 632, an eclipse that was visible in Medina on 27 January coincided with the death of Ibrahim, the son of the Prophet Muhammad. Muhammad interpreted this as a sign for his followers to pray for Ibrahim.

On 2 August 1133, a total eclipse took place. When King Henry I of England died months later, it "confirmed" for the popular culture that eclipses were bad omens for rulers. They knew that the eclipse portended bad news; they just had to wait a long time to find out what the bad news was.

There's a stone in Ireland whose carvings are interpreted as the first recorded eclipse. You can see it above. The two sets of concentric circles colliding in the middle represent the eclipse. The circular carvings above it represent the other stars that appeared in the sky at the moment of totality. The overall pattern enabled astronomers to determine when the eclipse took place. So it is pretty well established that the earliest recording of an eclipse was made on the Loughcrew Cairn Megalithic Monument in Ireland; the eclipse took place on 30 November, 3340 BCE.

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