Shadows of days gone by

August 6, 1999

A day of total luna-see: * Records of eclipses can be found in the ancient histories of Babylon, East Asia, Europe and Arabia.

* The oldest report of a total eclipse is dated July 17, 709BC.

* A vivid account of a total eclipse dates from Jun 25, AD15. This notes:

"The sky and earth were in darkness. People could not be distinguished within a foot. The chickens and ducks returned to roost."

* Ancient observations reveal that since 700BC the length of the day has increased by about a twentieth of a second. Such ancient observations play a significant role in contemporary geophysics.

Richard Stephenson, professorial fellow in physics, Durham University.

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