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Solar Eclipse 2024: Predicting Eclipses with Stephen Wolfram

The 2024 solar eclipse with Stephen Wolfram, author of Predicting the Eclipse.

Hello everyone!

Welcome back to The Cosmic Companion. I’m James G. Maynard. This week, we take the first of two looks at the upcoming solar eclipse coming on 8 April. Later in the show, we will be talking with noted physicist, mathematician, and developer Stephen Wolfram about his new book, Predicting the Eclipse

From ancient fears and superstitions to modern-day scientific predictions, the history of eclipse forecasting is a captivating tale of human curiosity and ingenuity.

Have you ever looked up at the sky during an eclipse and wondered how people in the past reacted to this awe-inspiring sight? Admit it. I know you have! 

In the early days of human civilization, eclipses were often seen as ominous events, portending disaster or the displeasure of the gods. 

[Eek! The Sun has disappeared. The Gods must be displeased!]

Ancient civilizations around the world had their own unique beliefs about eclipses. For example, the ancient Chinese believed that a dragon was devouring the sun, and the people would beat on drums to scare the creature away. In the mid-13th Century, the Anasazi people, living in what is now southwestern Colorado, witnessed two solar eclipses (in 1257 and 1259), plus a bright comet in 1264. Already plagued by a severe drought, the people quickly abandoned their land.

It’s easy to imagine the fear and confusion these early people must have felt at sudden darkness in the middle of the day!

Several cultures told stories that eclipses were the result of the Sun being eaten by a celestial creature of one sort or another. The Norse held that the ravenous beast was a wolf, while people in Vietnam claimed a frog ate the Sun. [Frog: BURP!] Hindu mythology talks of the deity Rahu being beheaded for… stealing a drink. And as his head flies through the sky… it … somehow… manages to swallow the Sun…

But as humanity progressed, so did our understanding of the cosmos. Early scientists and astronomers began to realize that eclipses weren’t random events, but rather natural phenomena that could be predicted and understood.

Around the year 150 BCE, scientist/philosopher Hipparchus of Nicaea used a solar eclipse to make a pretty good estimate of the size of the Earth. 

One of the earliest known examples of an eclipse prediction device is the Antikythera mechanism, an ancient Greek astronomical instrument that could calculate the timing of eclipses with remarkable accuracy.

The scientific revolution of the Renaissance brought even more advancements in eclipse forecasting. Astronomers like Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei developed new mathematical models and observational techniques that greatly increased the precision of eclipse predictions. No longer were eclipses seen as scary omens, but rather as opportunities to study the sun, the moon, and the stars in new and exciting ways.

Fast forward to the present day… {FAST FORWARD SOUNDS} and eclipse prediction has become incredibly sophisticated. Scientists like Stephen Wolfram use advanced computer models and complex algorithms to forecast eclipses with astonishing accuracy. These predictions are not only fascinating from a scientific perspective, but also have practical uses in fields like navigation, communication, and satellite management.

Next up, we talk with Stephen Wolfram about his new book, Predicting the Eclipse.

So, the next time you witness an eclipse, take a moment to appreciate the long and storied history of eclipse forecasting. From ancient fears to modern science, it’s a testament to the human spirit of curiosity and exploration that has propelled us forward for millennia. Who knows what new discoveries and advancements the future holds in the fascinating world of eclipse prediction?

Maybe we can take lessons from one ancient legend of eclipses. The Batammaliba of Togo and Benin have a legend that eclipses are the result of the Sun and Moon fighting. The only way to end the battle, their stories tell, is for people around the world to stop fighting amongst ourselves. Maybe not such a terrible lesson. 

Next week, we will be talking with Experimental physicist at CERN and acclaimed science presenter Harry Cliff about the strangest anomalies of the Universe, and his new book, Space Oddities. Make sure to join us starting on 30th March. The following week on 6 April, we will give you a viewing guide to the solar eclipse happening on 8 April. Don’t miss either episode. 

[How do I make sure I see every episode and all your really cool films?]

Great question! Head on over to our Substack at and sign up for our newsletter. Subscribe for free, or treat yourself to a VIP subscription starting at just $5 a month. 

[What a deal!]

Yup… What a deal.

Clear skies!


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The Cosmic Companion w/ James Maynard
The Cosmic Companion - Astronomy, Space, Technology Advancing Humanity
Astronomy, space, and science news and education delivered in a fun, friendly format!
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