In 1302 B.C., Chinese historians documented an epic total eclipse that blocked out the sun for 6 minutes and 25 seconds. Because the sun was a symbol of the emperor, an eclipse was seen as a warning to the leader. After an eclipse, an emperor would eat vegetarian meals and perform rituals to rescue the sun, according to a 2003 study in the Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage. [Fiery Folklore: 5 Dazzling Sun Myths]
Kevin D. Pang, an astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and colleagues analyzed inscriptions on ancient turtle shell fragments (called oracle bones) to figure out the date of the eclipse — June 5, 1302 B.C. Part of the inscription reads: “Diviner Ko asks if the following day would be sunny or not,” according to a NASA press release. On the reverse side of the fragment, the inscription continued “... 52nd day, fog until next dawn. Three flames ate the Sun, and big stars were seen.” Pang interpreted “three flames” as “coronal streamers licking out from the Sun’s surface, visible only during total eclipses,” according to the NASA statement. During the solar eclipse, as the moon’s shadow covered the sun, “big stars” would be visible to Earthlings during the day.
Shown here: A total solar eclipse seen from Xiamen, China, on May 20, 2012.