- Education and Science»
- Astronomy & Space Exploration
Annular solar eclipse
Today people around the world witnessed the first annular solar eclipse of the year and also the longest in the millennium， which lasted 11 minutes.
A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between earth and the sun, thereby totally or partially obscuring earth's view of the sun.
An annul solar eclipse happens when moon's apparent diameter becomes smaller than the sun, resulting in the latter look like a ring.
Superstition about eclipses is a worldwide phenomenon. Many cultures believed that a demon or dragon swallowed the sun, Chinese children may be told that the Heavenly Dog eats the sun.
Indian youth defy the superstitions related to the event. They think there was no scientific basis for not eating during the eclipse, staying inside house and not doing anything during the eclipse. They are happy to join their friends at lunch even as the moon was gobbling the sun in the distant sky.
But the older and the conservatives still believe these the myth that consuming food during solar or lunar eclipse was bad for health and their future.
In China today, there are almost none of these superstitions exist either among old or young generations, but for the ancient Chinese, a solar eclipse was a dire warning, a portent of doom that would send the entire empire into panic, prompting the emperor to avoid eating meat, shun the palace and read oracle bones to find out the meaning of the phenomenon. In the Book of Rites, there are many occasions are related to eclipse, especially in Book V "The Questions of Zang-Dze". Zang-dze, about fifty years younger than Confucius, was one of the chief disciples of his school, he asked Confucius many difficult questions on various points of ceremony, especially in connexion with the rites of mourning; and Confucius replies to them ingeniously and with much fertility. Some of the questions and answers, however, are but so much trifling, which makes you feel Zeng-Dze was a kind of person who loved hone a bull's horn, or to waste time on an insignificant problem.
One question that Zang-dze asked was, 'At a burial, when the bier has been drawn to the path (leading to the place), if there happen an eclipse of the sun, is any change made or not?'
Confucius said, 'Formerly, along with Lâo Tan I was assisting at a burial in the village of Hsiang, and when we had got to the path, the sun was eclipsed. Lâo Tan said to me, "Khiû, let the bier be stopped on the left of the road; and then let us wail and wait till the eclipse pass away. When it is light again, we will proceed."
'He said that this was the rule.
'When we had returned and completed the burial, I said to him, "In the progress of a bier there should be no returning. When there is an eclipse of the sun, we do not know whether it will pass away quickly or not, would it not have been better to go on?"
'Lâo Tan said, "When the prince of a state is going to the court of the son of Heaven, he travels while he can see the sun. At sun-down he halts, and presents his offerings (to the spirit of the way). When a Great officer is on a mission, he travels while he can see the sun, and at sun-down he halts. Now a bier does not set forth in the early morning, nor does it rest anywhere at night; but those who travel by star-light are only criminals and those who are hastening to the funeral rites of a parent. When there is an eclipse of the sun, how do we know that we shall not see the stars? And moreover, a superior man, in his performance of rites, will not expose his relatives to the risk of distress or evil."
'This is what I heard from Lâo Tan.'
In this paragraph, Lâo Tan was a contemporary of Confucius (551-479 BCE). His surname was Li (plum), and his personal name was Er (ear) or Dan (long ear). He was also called Laozi which literally means "Old Master". He was a central figure in Taoism (also spelled "Daoism"), and the author of the Daodejing (Tao Te Ching). There are numerous stories depicting Confucius consulting Laozi about rituals.
We don't know if Confucius did attended a funeral along with Laozi, but according the quotation, Laozi was not a superstitious person. The eclipse happened during the course of the funeral, Laozi made "the bier be stopped on the left of the road; and then let us wail and wait till the eclipse pass away." There were two reasons: first, we travel while we can see the sun, and halt at sun-down; second, those who travel by star-light are only criminals and those who are hastening to the funeral rites of a parent, criminals are evil and mourners suffers from distress. An eclipse is just as sunset at night, a superior-man don't want to rush under the sky full of stars, and expose his relatives to the risk of distress and evil.