In anticipation of solar eclipses visible in 2017 and 2024, an exploration of the scientific and cultural significance of this mesmerizing cosmic display
Since the first humans looked up and saw the sun swallowed by darkness, our species has been captivated by solar eclipses. Astronomer and anthropologist Anthony Aveni explains the history and culture surrounding solar eclipses, from prehistoric Stonehenge to Babylonian creation myths, to a confirmation of Einstein’s theory of general relativity, to a spectacle that left New Yorkers in the moon’s shadow, to future eclipses that will capture human imaginations.
In one accessible and engaging read, Aveni explains the science behind the phenomenon, tracks eclipses across the ancient world, and examines the roles of solar eclipses in modern times to reveal the profound effects these cosmic events have had on human history. Colored by his own experiences—Aveni has witnessed eight total solar eclipses in his lifetime—his account of astronomy’s most storied phenomenon will enthrall anyone who has looked up at the sky with wonder.
Anticipating a pair of total eclipses that will end a 99-year-long "eclipse drought" in mainland North America, Aveni (Apocalyptic Anxiety), a pioneering cultural astronomer at Colgate University, takes a fresh look at the science and spectacle of solar eclipses. The earliest known record of a solar eclipse comes from a Babylonian cuneiform tablet that dates to the second century B.C.E., though ancient Chinese documents supposedly describe an eclipse that occurred in 2137 B.C.E. Recording eclipses and, later, predicting them kept mortals informed of the gods' behavior; they marked the most auspicious time to carry out wars, religious ceremonies, and more. Many cultures saw eclipses as omens predicting military loss or natural disaster, Aveni explains, a habit that astrologers maintained long after humans understood how eclipses happen. Aveni relates how we've watched eclipses over the centuries, and his greatest pleasure is in those reports that record the observer's emotions alongside the event. From the first recorded eclipse-chaser (who crossed North Africa in 1433 C.E. to capture the event) to the celebrated 1878 Pike's Peak expedition and the 1925 eclipse that captivated a winter-bound New York City, Aveni's accessible and welcoming work celebrates the enthusiasm of umbraphiles through the ages.