Friday, 1 August 2008

Eclipses through history : The myth and the reality

August 1, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, July 31: Eclipses, both solar and lunar, have always fascinated man. Eclipses have been associated with major events, good and bad, throughout the human history.
The earliest known eclipse recorded dates back to 4000 years. It was Chinese
astronomers who recorded the event that occurred on October 22, 2134 BC. The second ancient eclipse recorded in human civilisation was in Mesopoamia (present day Iraq). It occurred on May 3, 1375 BC.
Several attempts have been made to establish the exact date of the epic Mahabharata war. Prof R Narayana Iyengar of the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, has based his study of Mahabharata on eclipses and planetary positions that were referred into the epic. According to him, Mahabharata occurred between 1493 and 1443 BC.
"The 23-day Kurukshetra war between the Kauravas and Pandavas must have taken place in 1478 BC. This result may have an error band of one year, since the intervals between the three constraining eclipses are uncertain to the extent of one year," Prof Narayana Iyengar said.
According to historical records, Emperor Louis, head of the Frankish Empire of Western Europe, is said to have been so awe-struck by the total solar eclipse of May 5, 840 CE that he died shortly afterwards.
The Odyssey refers to a solar eclipse near Ithaca, which would correspond to 1178 BC. There is a reference to an eclipse in the Bible which could correspond to 15 June 736 BC.
On May 29, 1453 CE a rising full moon was eclipsed over Constantinople, then under siege by the Turk army. It is reported that this created such a dip in morale that in a few days Constantinople was defeated, leading to the end of the Roman Empire after 1130 years.
The expedition by Columbus was also linked to the eclipse of February 29, 1504.
More recently the eclipse (last of 20th century) of August 11, 1999 was linked to the fear of the new millennium. Several astrologers predicted catastrophes. But scientists brushed it aside saying technically the eclipse of 1999 was not the last of the last millennium. The Third Millennium technically started on January 1, 2001, as the ancients did not use the year zero.
However, the 1999 eclipse was the last of total solar eclipses of the last millennium. Though there were four solar eclipses in 2000 they were not complete, but partial.
Other notable eclipses in the history are: May 28, 585 BC that brought to an end the war between the Medes and the Lydians. The eclipse of April 10, 628 CE was attributed to the death of Japanese Emperor Suiko while that of May 1, 664 CE was linked to the death of the King of Kent Earcenbryht.

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