'Eat the Sun': Inside the History and Mythology of Total Solar Eclipses

„Eclipse Across America” ​​will air live on ABC, ABC News Live, National Geographic Channel, Nat Geo WILD, Disney+ and Hulu, as well as on network social media platforms, beginning Monday, April 8, at 2 p.m.

A total solar eclipse is an astronomical phenomenon that has captured the imaginations of astronomers and the interest of scientists for thousands of years.

On April 8, 2024, when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth, contiguous parts of the United States will plunge from daylight to twilight, briefly obscuring the Sun completely.

The path of the moon's shadow on the earth's surface is called the path of totality. In the United States, the route starts in San Antonio, Texas and goes north through Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine to Bangor. According to NASA, small parts of Tennessee and Michigan will also experience a total solar eclipse.

If you're not in the path of totality, you'll still be able to see a partial solar eclipse in the U.S. But if you want to see the total solar eclipse on April 8, you'll need to be within that 115. Mile wide track.

Ancient records of eclipses

Turning the pages of the entire solar eclipse history, the celestial spectacle has elicited a variety of interpretations and reactions over time and around the world.

Humanity's first eclipse is believed to have been recorded on November 30, 3340 BC at the Lochrew megalithic monument in County Meath, Ireland. NASAIt cites the 2002 findings of Irish „archaeologist” Paul Griffin.

The overlapping circular rock carvings, known as petroglyphs, appear to depict the moon partially blocking the sun, and Griffin calculated that they may have coincided with an eclipse from that time.

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In front of the carvings, previous archaeologists found the charred human remains of nearly 50 individuals, which Griffin speculates may have been the result of Neolithic human sacrificial rituals linked to the eclipse.

From Ireland, in Anyang, China, a third of what are believed to be eclipse records were discovered around 1200 BC in carved pieces of tortoise shell known as „oracle bones” and later studied by astronomers aboard a NASA jet. Propulsion Laboratory.

According to NASA, the secret inscriptions declared that „the sun has been eaten.” Researchers also found records of eclipses in 1226 BC, 1198 BC, 1172 BC, 1163 BC and 1161 BC.

A petroglyph discovered in 1992 in New Mexico's Chaco Canyon, a few hours northeast of Albuquerque, depicts the first solar eclipse of July 11, 1097, according to NASA. The rock carving of the ancestral Pueblo people „features a ring spinning from the side — possibly representing a coronal mass ejection from the Sun,” the agency says.

According to NASA, coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are ejections of plasma threaded by magnetic field lines that are ejected from the Sun's corona, or outer atmosphere. CMEs look like a twisted rope, called a „flux rope” by scientists.

Solar eclipse legend

Throughout history, eclipses have been interpreted by many cultures as disrupting the natural order and sometimes as „bad omens.” Britannica.

In ancient China, carvings found at Anyang depicted solar eclipses with celestial dragons attacking and devouring the sun.

„People beat drums and make loud noises during eclipses to scare away the dragon and save the sun,” says the Britannica.

In South America, the ancient Incas believed a solar eclipse to be a „sign of anger and displeasure” of the „all-powerful sun god” Indi, Britannica adds.

„Following an eclipse, spiritual leaders would try to divine the source of his anger and decide which sacrifices to offer,” Britannica notes, noting that fasting and even human sacrifice were common during solar eclipses.

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The Choctaw Native Americans, the third largest Native American nation – originally based in what is now Alabama and Mississippi – developed the story of the ancient Chinese people to explain solar eclipses.

According to Britannica, „According to the legend of the Chogda, eclipses are caused by a mischievous black squirrel biting the sun”. „Like the Chinese dragon, the squirrel must run away frightened by the screams and shouts of the human witnesses of the event.”

In West Africa, the Tammari people, also known as Batamariba, from the northern regions of Togo and Benin, believed that celestial bodies intersecting during eclipses represented human enmity on earth.

„According to their legend, human anger and strife spread to the sun and moon, who began to fight each other and caused an eclipse,” Britannica notes.

Advances in Science

Generally believed to be the most influential Indian mathematician and astronomer Aryabhata He was the first to record observations on the true cause of eclipses. Born in the late fifth century and believed to have been written in the early sixth century, his only surviving work, the „Aryapatya”, includes mathematics for predicting solar and lunar eclipses.

More recently, a solar eclipse helped prove one of the most important scientific theories in history.

Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, published in 1915, postulated in part that space and time act together like a fabric, and that the mass of a celestial body would distort that fabric and change the path of light along that curve. . However, it was only three years later that Einstein's theory was confirmed by a solar eclipse.

Sir Arthur Eddington led an expedition to Prince Island off the coast of West Africa to witness the May 29, 1919 solar eclipse. As the Moon blocked the Sun's light, scientists could see that some of the stars near the Sun were in the wrong position, as a result of being deflected by the Sun's gravity – just as Einstein had predicted.

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Nearly 100 years later, in 2017, a total solar eclipse spanned the contiguous United States from Oregon to South Carolina for the first time in 38 years. That event, with the help of a collection of 11 spacecraft from NASA and partner organizations, allowed scientists to provide observations of the Sun, Moon and Earth that could only be seen during an eclipse.

„This eclipse gave us an opportunity to confirm the idea of ​​a Sun-Earth connection,” said Dr. Lika Kuhtagurtha, who led NASA's science efforts for the August 21 eclipse. He said then. „This eclipse enabled a variety of new observations, instruments and observation platforms. It will be fascinating to see how these evolve into new research projects and new technology for future use.

Fast forward to this month as NASA prepares for a mission to study how the sudden decrease in sunlight during the total solar eclipse on April 8 affects our upper atmosphere, the agency said.

The Atmospheric disturbances around the ecliptic path (APEP) mission will launch three subspherical „sonic” rockets in quick succession – one about 35 minutes before the peak of the eclipse, one during the peak of the eclipse and one 35 minutes after.

„Each rocket carries four small science instruments that measure changes in electric and magnetic fields, density and temperature,” NASA said.

Additionally, in Missouri, a team of students from Virginia Tech will launch „high-altitude scientific weather balloons” along the total solar eclipse path as part of the National Eclipse Ballooning Program for NASA.

The balloons will fly at an altitude of about 75,000 feet and capture images of the eclipse „from a completely different perspective than those watching on the ground.” Project press release.

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