Press Release

Astronomers Find Link between Earliest Illustration of Sunspots in Medieval Britain and an Observation of Aurora in Medieval Korea

By SpaceRef Editor
July 16, 2001
Filed under ,

Scientists at the University of Warwick and the University of Durham have
linked the very first historical illustration of sunspots, recorded in
Medieval England in 1182, with the appearance of the aurora borealis 5 days
later in Korea.

Professor F. Richard Stephenson, Department of Physics, University of Durham,
was the first astronomer to discuss the earliest known drawing of sunspots,
which appears in The Chronicle of John of Worcester and predates the invention
of the telescope by almost 500 years. This medieval chronicle, which covers
the historical period from earliest times to AD 1140, contains a number of
records of celestial phenomena. These include aurorae, comets and meteor
showers, as well as eclipses of the Sun and Moon. One of the most interesting
of these reports is a description of two sunspots that were seen on 8 December
in AD 1128 from Worcester in England. In the manuscript that contains this
account, the Latin text is accompanied by a colourful drawing that shows two
large sunspots on the face of the Sun. This drawing appears to be the earliest
known illustration of sunspots. Sunspots were recorded in China more than 1000
years beforehand but no Chinese drawing depicting discrete solar spots exists
until about AD 1400, and no subsequent illustration of sunspots survives until
after the invention of the telescope, almost 200 years later.

Dr David M. Willis, Space and Astrophysics Group, Department of Physics,
University of Warwick, noted that the scientific importance of this
observation of two sunspots on 8 December in AD 1128 is increased by an
observation of the aurora borealis (northern lights) recorded in Korea only
five days after the sunspots, on 13 December. This observation of a red light
in the night-time sky from Songdo (the modern city of Kaesong) was recorded
in the Koryo-sa, the official Korean chronicle of the time. A delay of five
days is typical of the average time delay between the occurrence of a large
sunspot group near the centre of the Sun’s face and the subsequent appearance
of the aurora borealis in the night sky at relatively low latitudes.
Observations of this type help scientists to understand how solar activity
has changed during historical time.

For further Information contact:

Dr David M. Willis, Space and Astrophysics Group

University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL

Tel: 02476524917 or 01235446498 E-mail: d.m.wills@rl.ac.uk

Professor F Richard Stephenson, Dept of Physics

University of Durham, Durham DH1 3LE

Tel: 01913742153 Email: f.r.stehenson@durham.ac.uk

SpaceRef staff editor.