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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Almanac / Celestial Passings

Air Date: Week of

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This week, we have facts about the first known record of a solar eclipse. More than 4,000 years ago, Chinese astronomers divined the health of their emperor from the activity in the sky.


CURWOOD: Welcome back to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

[MUSIC: Orb “a huge ever growing pulsating brain that rules from the centre of the ultraworld: live mix mk 10” THE ORB’S ADVENTURES BEYOND THE ULTRAWORLD (Inter-Modo – 1991)
CURWOOD: This week in 2136 B.C. a black disc crept across the sun and a veil of darkness spread across China. It was the earliest known record of a total solar eclipse and went down in the logs of Chinese astrologers who were expected to read the future and health of their emperor from signs in the skies. If they didn’t get it right, it was off with their heads.

Today, calculating the appearance of a solar eclipse is a bit less perilous. But forecasters can still have fussy customers, as eclipse chasers can go to great lengths to get to the perfect viewing location – even if the whole experience can be ruined at the last minute by clouds.

One of these chasers is Brenda Culbertson, who traveled from her home in Kansas to Mexico in 1991 to catch her first total eclipse of the sun.

CULBERTSON: It was so black that nothing could describe it. It was like a hole torn in the sky. It was so quiet around there you could hear a pin drop. And then people finally started breathing again, well, because they needed to. It was just that great.

CURWOOD: To view the next total solar eclipse this November 23rd, Brenda Culbertson will need some polar gear. According to the NASA, that one will quickly traverse the Southern part of Antarctica. Or she can wait for March 29th, 2006 for an eclipse that can be seen from Central Africa to Russia. And for this week, that’s the Living on Earth Almanac.

[MUSIC: Miles Davis “Shhh/Peaceful” IN A SILENT WAY (Sony – 1969) ]



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