A Celestial Event Mentioned In An Ancient Chinese Text Turns Out To Be The Oldest Known Observation

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In an archaic Chinese literature, a celestial occurrence is recounted that is three centuries older than the next earliest known connection to a potential aurora.

It is thought that the Bamboo Annals, as well as Zhushu Jinian from Mandarin, were written in the fourth century BCE and cover China’s past from its earliest legends through the time of their writing. Aside from actual historical events, there are a few mentions of strange astronomical occurrences. While this narrative has long been familiar to academics, it is always interesting to take a clean glance at ancient writings to see what new insights they may have.

As a result of this investigation, a “five-colored light” was mentioned by a Zhou dynasty ruler who was in his latter years in power. There is some debate as to when Zhao’s rule began, but based on the most recent interpretations of Chinese historiography, the most plausible years are 977 BCE or 957 BCE.

There was a strong geomagnetic storm at the time of the “five-colored light,” according to the researchers. Whenever the mid-latitude aura is intense enough, it may produce a multi-colored display. This has been documented in historical archives dating back considerably further in antiquity, according to the experts.

In terms of auroras, this should be the oldest documented dateable report from anyplace on the globe. Almost exactly two years after the last bearer of this distinction—a group of cuneiform plates by Assyrian scientists in the era 679–655 BCE that documented numerous possible aurorae.

Throughout the five-colored brilliance of this record piece, why did it really take researchers so long to notice the aurora as it appeared? These Bamboo Annals seemed to have a tainted past, which is one of the reasons. Rediscovered in the third century, the source text was forgotten anew throughout the Song Dynasty. Comets were also mentioned in the sixteenth century, although they were not five-colored lights. According to the results of the most recent investigation, this was not the initial reading.

The paper was published in Advances in Space Research.

William Reid
A science writer through and through, William Reid’s first starting working on offline local newspapers. An obsessive fascination with all things science/health blossomed from a hobby into a career. Before hopping over to Optic Flux, William worked as a freelancer for many online tech publications including ScienceWorld, JoyStiq and Digg. William serves as our lead science and health reporter.