The phenomenon of colored light about 3000 years ago: The research team interprets the description of a celestial event in an ancient Chinese text as the first historical indication of the aurora borealis. In addition to its historical significance, the information could also be useful for modeling long-term patterns in fluctuations in space weather and solar activity, the scientists say.
Colorful luminous phenomena meander across the sky and envelop the world in magical splendor: the northern lights have always fascinated people and inspired mythological interpretations. It poured into the legends and stories of the Scandinavian peoples, because luminous phenomena can be observed very frequently and especially in the polar region. What was previously described as mythical and religious now has a scientific explanation: the effects of light are caused by an interaction between the solar wind and the Earth’s magnetic field and air. The high-energy particles cause the nitrogen and oxygen atoms to glow. This happens especially in the polar regions because the Earth’s magnetic field lines penetrate the atmosphere. However, after particularly pronounced solar flares that result in particularly intense solar winds, lights can also be seen in the south.
Reference in the ancient bamboo annals
There, celestial phenomena cause a special stir – this was also the case in the past, as evidenced by the historical records of different cultures. The oldest known reference to date are records on Assyrian cuneiform tablets from the period 679 to 655 BC. However, as Japan’s Nagoya University reports, a team of researchers has now identified a historical description that they interpret as referring to the aurora borealis that occurred about 300 years ago. It comes from the so-called Bamboo Annals – a history of the history of China before the foundation of the empire. It records various events from pre-written possible, in the fourth century BC. Human Rights Center.
Although this record has been known for a long time, a special look at some passages can provide new clues. According to the university, in addition to historical events, the text also mentions unusual observations of nature in some places. Scientists now set their sights on a passage speaking of a celestial phenomenon in central China, which they translate as “five-colored light.” Depending on the context, it was seen in the northern part of the sky. There are also chronological indications: the phenomenon accordingly appeared on a night at the end of the reign of King Zhao of the Zhou dynasty. This brought it back to the early 1st millennium BC. narrows down. However, since the end of Zaha’s reign is dated differently, according to scholars, there are two possible years for the appearance: 977 and 957 BC. Human Rights Center.
Did the multicolored aurora borealis shine over China?
They explained that the “five-colored light” indicated that it was an aurora that appeared to have occurred in the aftermath of a strong solar flare followed by a severe particle storm. Because it is known that a multi-colored spectacle can appear if the northern lights are bright enough in the middle latitudes. Scholars cite similar descriptions from other historical records, which, however, are much closer to our time. If their interpretation of the “five-colored light” as the aurora borealis is correct, the researchers conclude that the text from the Bamboo Annals is the oldest historical record of the aurora borealis.
According to them, the fact that the celestial phenomenon was very visible in the very far south of the country can be associated with the location of the Earth’s magnetic north pole at that time: in the 10th century BC. It is known that it was about 15 degrees closer to central China than it is today. Therefore, the northern lights could be clearly visible there during times of significant magnetic disturbances, the researchers explained.
As Nagoya University has concluded, the historical path has more than historical significance: These clues can help scientists model long-term patterns in space weather fluctuations and solar activity. Understanding these fluctuations can, in turn, help prepare for large-scale solar flares in the future. Because the effects of powerful solar storms can cause major disruptions to the technical infrastructure. About 3,000 years ago, at least, this wasn’t a problem. But one can well imagine how people at that time puzzled what the colorful appearances in the sky meant.
source: Nagoya University
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