Records of ancient solar eclipses show how the Earth’s rotation has changed

The researchers looked at historical documents dating back to the fourth century to find total solar eclipses.

Records of an eclipse observed around 1,500 years ago have revealed the history of Earth’s rotation and how the movement of our planet has changed in recent human history.

An article with a detailed description of the results was published in the journal Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

The researchers studied the records of the Byzantine Empire – the eastern part of the Roman Empire that existed after the fall of the Western Roman Empire – from the 4th to the 7th century AD. – and identified five total solar eclipses observed in the Eastern Mediterranean, pinpointing their probable time and location. Previously, reports of solar eclipses at this time were scarce.

Because eclipses can provide information about Earth’s motion, such records can be important tools for understanding Earth’s variability throughout history. According to scientists, our ancestors recorded astronomical events without taking into account the important information that astronomers need today, so determining the correct time, place and duration of historical eclipses is often difficult.

“Although the original eyewitness accounts of the period are mostly lost, quotations, translations, etc., recorded by later generations contain valuable information. In addition to reliable location and time information, we needed confirmation of a total eclipse — daytime darkness so dark that stars appeared in the sky,” said Koji Murata, an associate professor at the University of Tsukuba in Japan.

The team identified five total solar eclipses recorded in the Eastern Mediterranean region in 346, 418, 484, 601 and 693 AD. As an example of the impact of this new research, an eclipse was documented that occurred on July 19, 418 and was so total that stars were visible in the sky. The place of observation of this solar eclipse was Constantinople, then the capital of the Roman Empire, and now Istanbul in modern Turkey.

A previous model of delta-T (ΔT is the length of an Earth day) predicted that Constantinople would have been outside the path of totality, the region where observers see the moon completely covering the sun, for this particular eclipse. Thus, this ancient description of a total eclipse means that the ΔT for the 5th century must be adjusted. Other recently discovered accounts also require adjustments to ΔT models for later centuries.

“Our new ΔT data fill a significant gap and indicate that the ΔT margin for the 5th century should be revised upward, while that for the 6th and 7th centuries should be revised downward,” Murata said .

Revised details of Earth’s rotation can also help scientists study other global phenomena throughout history, including changes in sea level and the amount of ice on the planet.


The article is in Ukrainian

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