The Map: Before your eyes

They have stopped wars, quelled restless natives and helped prove Einstein's theory of relativity. On 11 August, the last solar eclipse of the millennium will be visible from Cornwall. And this time round, it will be used as an excuse for a massive party

1. China, c 2140BC

Possibly the first recorded solar eclipse. Legend has it that the emperor of the time, Chung K'ang, lost his rag when two royal astronomers failed to give any warning of the eclipse because they were drunk. The astronomers were beheaded. The Chinese believed solar eclipses were an attack on the Sun by a hungry dragon, and they ran around beating drums and shooting arrows to try to scare the dragon away.

2. Asia Minor, 28 May 585BC

According to the Greek historian Herodotus, the philosopher Thales predicted this total solar eclipse, possibly making it the first to have been foreseen. Herodotus also recounts that the eclipse took place while the Lydians and the Medes were at war, and the armies were so freaked out by the sight that they made a hasty peace.

French astronomer Pierre Janssen noticed something strange in the spectrum of sunlight from this total solar eclipse. He told the English scientist Sir Norman Lockyer, who realised it was the "fingerprint" of a previously unknown element. Lockyer named it helium, from the Greek helios, meaning Sun. It was not until 1895 that helium was identified back here on Earth.

4. Jamaica, 29 February 1504

Christopher Columbus took advantage of an eclipse of the Moon to con the locals in Jamaica. He and his crew had been stranded on the island for more than a year. Food was running out, and the natives refused to give the crew any more. Columbus told them that God would make the Moon disappear if they weren't more hospitable. Right on cue, the Moon disappeared and the natives promptly provided more supplies.

5. Northern England, 29 June 1927

The last total solar eclipse visible from mainland UK. It was total in the north of England but lasted less than 25 seconds. Up to three million people are reported to have travelled to see it, making for the biggest movement of people by train on record in the UK.

6. Bergamo, Italy, 5 May 840

A writer who saw the total solar eclipse in Bergamo records that people expected the world to end: "There was great distress, and while the people beheld it, many thought that this age would last no longer." The same eclipse supposedly made a king die of fright. Louis of Bavaria had linked his father's death to an eclipse, and when he saw one happen himself, he predicted his own death - sure enough, he died one month later.

7. Cornwall, 11 August 1999

The last total solar eclipse of this millennium will be visible from the southwest of England. Cornwall is battening down the hatches in anticipation of the arrival of anything up to four million eclipse fanatics. They might be disappointed - Nasa scientists predict that the chances of clear skies on the day are 45 per cent.

8. Jajai, India, 24 October 1995

This recent solar eclipse proved that astronomical superstition is far from dead. People living in the village of Jajai smeared pregnant women and cows with red sand, hoping to avert any birth defects which they believed could be linked to an eclipse.

9. Jedburgh, Scotland, 15 May 1836

English astronomer Francis Baily discovered what are now known as Baily's beads. Just as the Sun reappears from behind the Moon after a total eclipse, sunlight shines between the lunar mountains, breaking the light up into small shining "beads".

10. Sobral, Brazil, and Principe Island, West Africa, 29 May 1919

The eclipse that sealed Albert Einstein's fame. Scientists went to Brazil and Africa to test his general theory of relativity - which predicts that the gravity of the Sun should bend the light from stars which are near to it - as viewed from the Earth. Normally these stars would not be visible because of the Sun's brightness, but in an eclipse they are, and the gravitational effect of the Sun on the stars can be observed. Einstein passed with flying colours.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Bathroom Showroom Manager / Bathroom Sales Designer

    £22 - £25k basic + Commission=OTE £35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Bathroom Sh...

    Recruitment Genius: HR Recruitment Advisor

    £21000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of children's ser...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Digital Marketing Executive (CRM, Eve...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Foreign Exchange Dealer - OTE £40,000+

    £16000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Foreign Exchange Dealer is re...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones