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Q&A: Myths and legends of a solar eclipse


As Montrealers prepare to witness the sun's total eclipse on April 8, some experts have pointed out that the celestial phenomenon has prompted many myths throughout the years.

Plateau Astro founder and space educator Trevor Kjorlien speaks to CTV News about some of the historical myths and legends behind solar eclipses.

CTV News: Many of us now know the scientific explanation for a solar eclipse, but over the years, there have been many, often dark, explanations. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Trevor Kjorlien: If you've ever experienced a total solar eclipse and you didn't know what was happening with the sun and the moon, the moon covering the sun, it does feel like a very apocalyptical event; it goes dark, the temperature drops a few degrees.

It could be a very strange experience. Some cultures had their own explanations of what was going on during a total solar eclipse.

The Aztecs, for instance, thought the jaguar (believed to be part of the underworld) was eating the sun.

Chinese culture thought that the dragon was eating the sun.

Whatever was feared or is important to that culture can lead to thinking, 'what is actually going on during a total solar eclipse?'

CTV News: Over the years, why have the ideas of the end of the world or omens of misfortune been very popular?

TK: It's a very strange experience, the total solar solar eclipse. It can feel unexplainable. When something unfortunate hits you, we humans want to find some explanation, some answers, some reason for it.

If something bad happens to somebody a few days after a total solar eclipse, if we didn't know what was going on, we might say, 'Oh, what was that big, important event that just happened? Right, right, that's got to be somehow related.'

That helps our human brains answer things that are happening around us.

CTV News: Does that mean people try to blame their health problems on the eclipse?

TK: Exactly. We might chalk it up to confirmation bias. Some of the myths might be food poisoning; people thinking you shouldn't eat food made during the solar eclipse. This is an old idea.

CTV News: Or perhaps more serious issues such as pregnancy problems, disabilities and blindness?

TK: It's a myth. It's something, again, related to when a major event happens, like a total solar eclipse, and then something bad happens to you a few days later; there's a satisfying answer we get by attributing it to something.

I think that's a natural thing and that happened in the past, and it still happens nowadays.

CTV News: We all hear that you can go blind from looking at a total solar eclipse. Is that true?

TK: There's obviously some basis in reality to that. So, let's break that up.

If you look at the sun directly any day of the year, and it's a clear day, there's a big chance that you could cause temporary or permanent blindness. So, don't do that.

On any normal day, we let our kids run around outside. We don't think about them staring up at the sun because it's usually not that interesting. It hurts the eyes to look at.

During a total solar eclipse, everybody's talking about it; we are more worried about kids or adults hurting their eyes because there's a really interesting thing happening up there.

That is not a myth. You can certainly go blind looking directly at the sun. During the total solar eclipse, you need to have your solar eclipse glasses, but at the moment of totality, when the moon fully blocks out the sun, you can safely take your eclipse glasses off and look at the eclipse with the naked eye.

You have to make sure you are on the path of totality; you have to make sure that you're only looking during the moment of totality, which here in Montreal is about a minute or so.

As soon as the moon moves out of the way, you have to put your eclipse glasses back on to be able to look up at the sun again. Top Stories

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