Sunspots is a phenomenon that have fascinated people from the past to the present, and was a topic of heated debate involving religion and Galileo, which eventually contributed to his house arrest. Here, we introduce you to the myths and beliefs of the past before science lifted the veils of the unknown, and the progress of science as each layer of the veils was slowly lifted, as well as Galileo’s arduous journey through his observations on sunspots.
In the ancient days, the people on Earth placed utmost importance on the sun, what with being fascinated by what nature can give and provide, and especially, awed by the sun’s ability to help grow crops, and to provide light and warmth. Inevitably, due to the somehow magical and life sustaining abilities of the sun, ancient cultures have provided many myths and legends on the sun. Perhaps, by giving the sun these qualities, it helps the ancient people to give an explanation to the wonders created by the sun.
One of the qualities that the ancient people, such as the people of Peru, the Inca and the Maya, have given for the sun is that of a God. For the ancient Greeks, the sun was seen as the chariot of the god Helios, driven across the heavens by his four horses. Hence, godlike qualities were given to the sun, and the heavy influences of the teachings of Aristotle, a Greek philosopher, who ‘held that the suns and the heavens were ideal, an embodiment of unblemished perfection’, further rooted the strongly held beliefs that the sun was perfect.
This therefore delayed the official discovery and admission of the always-existing dark spots around the sun - known as sunspots. It is important to note that while the sun had been seen as perfect in those ancient cultures, dark spots have also long been discovered around the sun in those days by a few observers from different parts of the world. As early as 28 B.C., ancient Chinese observers have already noticed dark patches around the sun. In the West, no proper records have been made, but it was believed that a Greek philosopher, Anaxagoras, had observed a spot on the sun in 467 B.C.. With that, some ancient scattered notes on spots on the sun have also been found. However, in the European countries especially, because of the strong dominant beliefs in Aristotelian cosmology, with the sun as perfect and the heavens as unchanging, generating resistance from people, because of the difficulty of observing the sun with the naked eye, and because of the cyclical nature of the spots, advancement in the discovery, observation and learning of the sunspots was largely limited.
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