Paula Redmond explains the phenomenon of a solar eclipse, one of which should be visible from Ireland on March 20. In the past, they were viewed by many cultures with mystery and fear
A partial solar eclipse will be visible from Ireland on March 20th 2015. An eclipse happens when the moon passes between the earth and the sun and obscures the sun’s light. A total eclipse occurs when all direct sunlight is blocked.
The Babylonians and the Chinese were some of the first cultures to be able to predict eclipses. Records show that they had acquired these skills as far back as 2500 BC.
In China, solar eclipses were associated with the health and well being of the Emperor and not predicting one was believed to put him in danger. As a result, two astrologers, Hsi and Ho, were executed for failing to predict an eclipse in 2134 BC.
The word eclipse comes from the Greek, Ekleipsis, meaning abandoned. The Greeks believed that an eclipse signalled disaster and that the gods were angry. The Greek astronomer, Hipparchus, used a solar eclipse in 129 BC to calculate the distance from the earth to the moon.
His computation was very accurate for the time, differing by only about 11% of what modern day scientists calculate it to be. The Chinese word for eclipse is ‘shih’ or ‘chih’ meaning ‘to eat’. In ancient times the Chinese people believed that a fire dragon ate the sun. Similarly, the Vietnamese believed that a frog or toad ate it.
In the Hindu tradition the deity Rahu was beheaded by the gods for eating ambrosia. It was believed that his immortal severed head flew through the sky trying to swallow the sun or the moon. When he managed to eat either, an eclipse occurred but the light soon re-appeared through his open throat.
The Vikings believed that a pair of sky wolves, Skoll and Hati, chased the sun and the moon. They believed that when the wolves caught either of them an eclipse resulted.