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Sun-Earth Day Presents: Eclipse, In a Different Light

Despite a thousand years of sunspot sightings, no one thought to actually sketch what they saw until recently.


Sunspot Drawing

Sunspot drawing in the Chronicles of John of Worcester, twelfth century.

The earliest known drawing of sunspots appears in The Chronicle of John of Worcester and predates the invention of the telescope by almost 500 years. The sunspot was recorded in medieval England in 1182, according to astronomer F. Richard Stephenson at the University of Durham. While sunspots were recorded in China more than 1000 years earlier, no Chinese drawing depicting solar spots exists until about AD 1400, and no subsequent illustration of sunspots survived until after the invention of the telescope almost 200 years later. The Chronicle of John of Worcester covers the historical period from earliest times to AD 1140, and contains a number of records of celestial phenomena. These include aurorae, comets and meteor showers, as well as eclipses of the Sun and Moon.

One of the most interesting of these reports is a description of two sunspots seen on December 8, 1128 from Worcester, England. In the chronicle, the Latin text is accompanied by a colorful drawing that shows two large sunspots on the face of the Sun. The accompanying text translates to "...from morning to evening, appeared something like two black circles within the disk of the Sun, the one in the upper part being bigger, the other in the lower part smaller. As shown on the drawing." The fact that the Worcester monks could apparently distinguish the dark central umbrae and lighter penumbrae that surrounds the sunspots, suggests that the spots must have been truly exceptionally large.

Naked-eye sunspot photograph

Large naked-eye sunspot photographed on April 7, 1947 was similar to the kinds that ancient astronomers occasionally saw and sketched.

The sunspot sighting coincided with the appearance of the aurora borealis 5 days later in Korea. On December 13, 1128 a red light in the night-time sky from Songdo (the modern city of Kaesong) was recorded in the Koryo-sa, the official Korean chronicle of the time.

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