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Solar Eclipse Inspires Awe All Over Globe
Superstitions still greet the momentous event
Alex Argote (alexphil)     Print Article 
Published 2006-03-30 13:15 (KST)   
In a fitting tribute to the ancient sun god, thousands of scientists, historians, tourists, as well as millions of people, have flocked to key spots of the planet where moon's blocking of the sun was visible or partially visible on Wednesday, March 29.

This temporary disappearance of the sun, more popularly known as a solar eclipse, is one of the most anticipated and feared events on Earth from the time of the hominids and earliest recorded history. A solar eclipse happens when the moon comes in a rare position directly between the sun and earth. A moon's shadow is thus created, and it temporarily paints a black line on the bright side of the world.

For a brief, but closely watched moment, day turns into twilight in the eclipse's path.

The total eclipse started in Brazil and followed a northeast path, sweeping across the Atlantic, some parts of Central Africa, Turkey, near the Himalayas, and then to Mongolia.

In preparation for the solar spectacle, authorities in superstition-ridden parts of the world scrambled to educate their people on the dangers of looking directly at the sun as it comes in a close encounter with the moon.

The government of Togo in West Africa purchased hundreds of thousands of pairs of special eyeglasses that were sold out immediately in the capital city of Lome. For the poor villagers in the countrysides and the interior, they were warned to just stay indoors lest they be blinded by curiosity.

According to reports, Togo's health minister broadcast a message on the state television telling the people without safety goggles not to go out and to keep their children indoors on the day of the eclipse.

Along the route of the eclipse, day turned abruptly into darkness and a corona glowed brightly around the moon's edges as it came in the dead center between the sun and the only habitable planet in the solar system. Gazing at the corona with the naked eye is extremely dangerous.

The University of Cape Coast broadcast the eclipse on the Internet as crowds converged in droves in prime viewing points of Accra, Ghana's capital, Turkey and India.

NASA astronomers and those from Britain's Royal Institute of Astronomy went to an ancient Roman amphitheater in Turkey to observe the phenomenon, especially the corona where they hoped to gain more information on the sun's surface by observing it behind the moon.

Solar eclipses have been part of human lore and history since the days of antiquity. It is know that each different culture developed a unique approach to this celestial phenomenon. But the Babylonians were said to have discovered the technique of long-range system of predicting occurrences that they called the "saros cycle." This method was also of great help to historians in fixing exact dates of past events.

There is also quite a palpable reference to an eclipse in the Old Testament. "And on that day, saith the Lord God, 'I will make the Sun go down at noon, and darken the Earth in broad daylight'." (Amos 8:9). Evidently, that day was June 15, 763 B.C. This date is reportedly confirmed by an Assyrian historical record known as the "eponym canon."

Each year in Assyria was thus named after a different ruling official and year's events were recorded under that name in the canon. On the year corresponding 763 B.C., a scribe at Nineveh wrote this eclipse and emphasized the importance of the day by drawing a line across the stone tablet. The historians were then able to improve the chronology of early Biblical epochs by referring to these ancient records.

The earliest known account of a solar eclipse comes from ancient China. The date was October 22, 2134 B.C., but it is not certain. Historians know it was written sometime within a period of about two hundred years.

The ancient Chinese were particularly superstitious about these solar occurrences. During the above eclipse, there was likely great noise and commotion with people beating their drums, archers shooting arrows into that "invisible dragon that had devoured the sun." According to some reports, the emperor was so enraged at having been caught unprepared that he peremptorily ordered the royal astronomers beheaded for failing to predict the solar eclipse.

One such "devious and invisible dragon" is said to be the most famous in ancient times was known to have ended a five-year war between the Medes and the Lydians. One day the armies of the two Middle Eastern kingdoms were fighting a savage battle when suddenly, "the day was turned into night." The warriors of both warring lands were startled so much that everyone stopped fighting and took this as a message from the gods.

Even today, in the age of Internet enabled computers, spaceships, and citizen participatory journalism, some queer beliefs and superstitions about eclipses still persist. Here in the Philippines, pregnant women are strongly dissuaded from going out of their houses when the moon swallows the sun, lest some misfortune befall their future babies.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Alex Argote

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