Total solar eclipses are thrilling to watch, and we will all have a chance to get in on the action this Friday!
The Chinese was one of the earliest cultures to keep written records of solar and lunar eclipses. They were first recorded around 2400 BC on oracle bones made from tortoise shells and other animal bones (see picture). The eclipses were regarded as heavenly signs that foretell the future of the Emperor, and hence they were meticulously recorded. As a result, the Chinese has been credited with keeping the longest continuous watch of the sky since those oracle bones cracked onto the scene.
The ancient Chinese believed that solar eclipses occur when a legendary celestial dog devours the sun. In the Chinese language, the term for eclipse was “chi” which also means “to eat”. One ancient Chinese solar eclipse record describes a solar eclipse as “the Sun has been eaten”. It was customary in ancient China to bang drums and pots and make loud noise by burning firecrackers during eclipses to frighten that dog away. Even more recently, in the nineteenth century, the Chinese navy fired its cannons during a lunar eclipse to scare the dog that was eating the Moon. But somehow, I don’t think my fellow viewers would appreciate me practicing these traditions on Friday!