Earliest mention of northern lights found in ancient Chinese chronicles

(ORDO NEWS) — The world’s oldest dated record of observations of the aurora borealis was found in the so-called Bamboo Annals – chronicles of the history of Ancient China, covering 2400-299 BC. e. Marinus Anthony van der Sluijs and Hisashi Hayakawa of the American Museum of Archeology and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania found a reference to “five-color light” in the northern night sky dating back to the end of the reign of Zhao of the Zhou dynasty in the 10th century.

So far, the earliest known references to what can be tentatively attributed to the auroras date back to the 6th-7th century BC. An article about this was published in the journal Advances in Space Research.

“Such chronological studies benefit the entire scientific community by multiplying the number of examples of extreme space weather events that have happened in the past and threaten to be repeated in our time, when they can be accompanied by serious losses for the entire modern technological infrastructure,” the authors of the study write.

“So, we found that the place of observation of these auroras was far from the north, in Haojing [the capital of Western Zhou], at 34 ° 14 ‘N. and 108 ° 46 ′ E, and this event can be dated to 977 or 957 BC.

Based on this, we calculated the extension of the visibility of the aurora to the equator as ≤39.0° in magnetic latitude and reconstructed the equatorial boundary of the auroral oval as ≤45.5° in invariant geomagnetic latitude.”

The find was made only two years after the previous record holder was presented – several records supposedly about the auroras mentioned on cuneiform tablets by Assyrian astronomers in the period 679-655. BC.

In this case, the problem with recognizing the auroras (“five-colored light”) in the chronicles arose because the original Bamboo Annals were lost, then rediscovered in the 3rd century AD. and again lost during the Song Empire, which existed in the X-XIII centuries.

In the 16th century, a “restored” version of the text appeared, in which the celestial object of interest to scientists was replaced by a “comet”. Now a new study has shown that this reading must be considered erroneous.


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