For many of us, astronomical phenomena like a solar eclipse or the passing of Halley’s Comet come about once in a lifetime. But just because we only get to see one total solar eclipse per lifetime doesn’t mean they haven’t been occurring ever since our moon formed 4.5 billion years ago! Throughout the centuries, our ancestors have witnessed solar eclipses and stared at them with wide-eyed amazement. However, as we now know, looking directly at a total solar eclipse isn’t such a good idea and can necessitate extensive eye care in Cape Cod! Continue reading more to learn about solar eclipses and how they have influenced our ancestors’ lives throughout the ages.
Eclipses in Ancient China
Records have shown that the ancient Chinese were able to predict the coming of an eclipse as early as 2500 B.C. They undoubtedly looked forward to eclipses and were happy when they were correctly predicted. The Chinese believed that solar eclipses were a sign of the emperor’s health and success, and failing to predict one meant he could be in danger. According to a legend, astrologers Hsi and Ho were put to death after failing to predict an eclipse.
Ancient Greece was not a peaceful place. City-states were constantly at war with one another to see who could control the land and sea. In 585 B.C., the Medes and Lydians were at war for this very reason—that is, until the moon stepped in front of the sun. A solar eclipse allegedly made both sides drop their weapons and make peace with one another. This same eclipse also helped astronomer Hipparchus nearly correctly determine that the moon is 268,000 miles from the Earth.
Solar eclipses have also played a role in scientific advances in perhaps unexpected ways. In 1868, a solar eclipse helped French astronomer Jules Janssen discover helium. Because the sun was so instrumental in his discovery, he named the element after the Greek word for the sun: Helios.
Meanwhile, Einstein’s theory of general relativity (which we don’t really need to delve into at this time) was published in 1915. Like many new theories, the scientific community wasn’t immediately ready to accept wild ideas right out of the gate. But luckily, a solar eclipse in 1919 helped scientists across the globe come to terms with this fact. Sir Arthur Eddington, a British astronomer and mathematician, took pictures of the stars near the sun during totality. While that may seem boring compared to looking at the actual eclipse, he was able to help prove the notion that gravity can bend light—a major part of Einstein’s theory.
Although a solar eclipse is certainly a spectacle to behold, it’s important to remember that staring directly at the sun is never okay. Looking directly at the eclipse for any amount of time is enough to warrant a trip to the optometrist’s office for eye care in Cape Cod. So, enjoy your next eclipse, but be sure to enjoy it safely with proper eye protection!