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Chinese Science

6 July 2016

Rachel Nuwer in Scientific American (July 2016) 'Solar Sleuths' – ancient documents record the Sun's activities prior to when the scientific record existed. The latter is of course Western-centric and only goes back to the late 17th/ early 18th century, a pin prick of time. The Chinese, Koreans and Japanese, have been recording goings on in the heavenly dimension for much longer, and jotting them down in a meticulous manner. It was not of course done for the sake of science. Emperors could be deposed if the 'mandate of heaven' went against them -self preservation played a role. Nevertheless it has provided modern researchers with a large amount of material of an astronomical flavour – but the problem is in actually deciphering what they said. The records can also be compared with documents elsewhere, including Europe. This is a useful exercise especially when it came to making out what was seen more clearly and pops up in studies over the last few years – into the events surrounding the 6th century low growth tree signature for example,or the peculiar influx of radiation in the 8th century AD (and any number of other events). In this instance they have been looking at possible references to aurorae and sun spots. These include references to unusual rainbows, and 'white rainbows' (which is peculiar) which they have interpreted as possibly aurora and plums or peaches on the face of the Sun (which could very well be sun spots). Some of these references came from the Tang dynasty so we should not necessarily think they are references to the kind of heavenly phenomena we see today as that embraced the Viking era, actions that were inspired by cold blips in climate as well as heavenly signs that gave their raiding a pagan religious dimension. Indeed, the Tang dynasty came to an end with the five dynasties period, a phase of unrest and civil breakdown coinciding with 900-930AD (when temperature plummeted for unknown reasons and war and booty chasing reached a crescendo). However, the Chinese and Koreans did not just record alarming phenomena – but everything going on in the heavens. Aurora and sun spots must have been recorded too. The study comes from a publication of the Astronomical Society of Japan.

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