China’s History with the Night Sky: Part 2 of 2

The Milky Way Maid’s Weblog says, the (ancient) Chinese focused on the constellations creating one of the earliest star maps ever found. “The Chinese are believed to have made the first observation of the legendary Halley’s comet in 240 BC.” In the West, In 1705, an astronomer named Edmond Halley discovered that the comet appears every 75 to 76 years, and the comet was named after him, not the Chinese who observed it before Christ was born.

Chinese astronomers gave distinctive names to familiar Western constellations. For example, the Big Dipper was called The Plow. The North Star was Bei Ji. Another constellation was called the Winnowing Basket.

However, the Chinese were not alone in mapping the heavens.

Ancient cultures in the West studied the skies too. The “Nebra Sky Disc”, discovered in Europe, was dated to about 1,600 BC.

National Geographic reports the Nebra Sky Disc is the oldest depiction of the night sky in history, and its a hundred years older than the oldest images found in ancient Egypt. The Nebra Sky Disc may be the first representation of the universe in human history.

In addition, China.org reports that 4,000 years ago, the oldest astronomical instrument known to man was invented. It was merely a bamboo pole planted in the ground so that the movement of the sun could be observed from the direction and length of the shadow of the pole. “From the 16th century BC to the end of the 19th century AD, almost every dynasty appointed officials charged with the sole task of observing and recording the changes in the heavens. Such observations and records have left a rich astronomical legacy. …

“While Western astronomers of the Renaissance period were still arguing in 1615 who was the first to discover sunspots, Chinese astronomers had already accumulated a large amount of records on sunspots. Now it is known that the earliest records of sunspots were made in 28 BC by Chinese astronomers during the reign of Emperor Cheng of the Western Han Dynasty.”

Return to or Start with Part 1.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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