Eric Hepperle, April 25, 2010
A total solar eclipse occurred on July 22, 2009. This type of eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, and the apparent diameter of the moon is large enough to block out all sunlight. It was visible in many parts of Asia including India, China, and Japan.
India has many superstitions surrounding solar eclipses. The Sanskrit story Mahabharata tells how the demon Rahu chases the sun and moon and tries to eat them and occasionally he does swallow them causing an eclipse. For example, expectant mothers try to prevent births on a day of eclipse because it is believed by many that evil rays will cause birth defects. These rays are also said to cause food to spoil and water to become undrinkable.
In ancient China, it was believed that a legendary celestial dragon devours the Sun and that banging of pots and drums would make the dragon leave. Eclipses were very important to the Chinese as they were said to foretell disasters and the emperor’s future.
Asian and Indian astrologers had predicted “…a rise in communal and regional violence in the days following the eclipse” (Hazlewood). Some foretold attacks by Kashmiri separatists or Al-Qaeda in India, US military action against Iran soon after September 9. However, the Indian Rationalist Association denounced such foreboding predictions as an attempt by soothsayers and astrologers to increase their business and cash-flow. (Hazlewood).
In an effort to demystify the eclipse phenomenon, scientists chartered an airplane to give some Indians an opportunity to see the eclipse from 41,000 feet above the earth. The cost to passengers for this privilege was equivalent to 1,600 American dollars.
Despite rainy and overcast conditions, thousands turned out to watch this rare spectacle, the longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century, lasting over 6 minutes.
Hazlewood, Phil. “Solar eclipse pits superstition against science”. [Online] Available: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5iJ9tZh4R3FEusQ1C_UQ7jxAyAU4g, 19 July 2009
Wikipedia, Solar eclipse of July 22, 2009, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_eclipse_of_July_22,_2009 (as of Apr. 24, 2010, 19:26 GMT).
The Associated Press. “Solar Eclipse Could Create Chaos.” MyFoxNY.com, July 20, 2009. http://www.myfoxla.com/dpp/news/dpgo_Solar_Eclipse_Could_Create_Chaos_mb_07202009_2688064
Azab, Ms. Maissa. “Solar Eclipses in History and Mythology.” http://www.bibalex.org/Eclipse2006/HistoricalObservationsofSolarEclipses.htm