Solar Physics

, 294:119 | Cite as

A Transit of Venus Possibly Misinterpreted as an Unaided-Eye Sunspot Observation in China on 9 December 1874

  • Hisashi HayakawaEmail author
  • Mitsuru Sôma
  • Kiyotaka Tanikawa
  • David M. Willis
  • Matthew N. Wild
  • Lee T. Macdonald
  • Shinsuke Imada
  • Kentaro Hattori
  • F. Richard Stephenson


Large sunspots can be observed with the unaided eye under suitable atmospheric seeing conditions. Such observations are of particular value because the frequency of their appearance provides an approximate indication of the prevailing level of solar activity. Unaided-eye sunspot observations can be traced back well before the start of telescopic observations of the Sun, especially in the East Asian historical records. It is therefore important to compare more modern, unaided-eye sunspot observations with the results of telescopic sunspot observations, to gain a better understanding of the nature of the unaided-eye sunspot records. A previous comparison of Chinese unaided-eye sunspot records and Greenwich photo-heliographic results between 1874 and 1918 indicated that a few of the unaided-eye observations were apparently not supported by direct photographic evidence of at least one sunspot with a large area. This article reveals that one of such Chinese unaided-eye observations had possibly captured the transit of Venus on 9 December 1874. The Chinese sunspot records on this date are compared with Western sunspot observations on the same day. It is concluded that sunspots on the solar disk were quite small and the transit of Venus was probably misinterpreted as a sunspot (black spot) by the Chinese local intellectuals. This case indicates that sunspots or comparable “obscuring” objects with an area as large as 1000 millionths of the solar disk could reasonably have been seen with the unaided eye under suitable seeing conditions. It also confirms the visibility of sunspots near the solar limb with the unaided eye. This study provides an explanation of the apparent discrepancy between the Chinese unaided-eye sunspot observation on 9 December 1874 and the Western sunspot observations using telescopes, as well as a basis for further discussion on the negative pairs in 1900 and 1911, apparently without sufficiently large area.


Sunspot Unaided-eye sunspot Chinese records Venus transit 



This research was conducted under the support of the Grant-in-Aid from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), Grant Number JP15K05038 (PI: M. Sôma), and JP15H05816 (PI: S. Yoden), and a Grant-in-Aid for JSPS Research Fellows JP17J06954 (PI: H. Hayakawa), as well as a mission project of RISH in Kyoto University. We thank Masashi Fujiyama for his advice on measurements of sunspot area, Alessandra S. Giunta for providing detailed information for sunspot observations in Catania, and the anonymous reviewers for numerous helpful and constructive comments, including those for the visibility variation of Venus disk and sunspots in the solar disk, and those on consulting sunspot drawings from Zürich Observatory for late unaided-eye sunspot records. We also acknowledge the Research Institute for Humanities of Kyoto University, Toyo Bunko, the National Diet Library of Japan, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, ETH Zürich, and Catania Observatory for letting us consult relevant historical documents and sunspot drawings cited in this article.

Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.


  1. Adams, C.W., Sarton, G., Ware, J.R.: 1947, Isis 37, 68. DOI. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aparicio, A.J.P., Vaquero, J.M., Carrasco, V.M.S., Gallego, M.C.: 2014, Solar Phys. 289(11), 4335. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Archinal, B.A., A’Hearn, M.F., Bowell, E., Conrad, A., Consolmagno, G.J., Courtin, R., et al.: 2011a, Celest. Mech. Dyn. Astron. 109, 101. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Archinal, B.A., A’Hearn, M.F., Bowell, E., Conrad, A., Consolmagno, G.J., Courtin, R., et al.: 2011b, Celest. Mech. Dyn. Astron. 110, 401. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Arlt, R.: 2008, Solar Phys. 247, 399. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Arlt, R.: 2009, Solar Phys. 255, 143. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Arlt, R.: 2011, Astron. Nachr. 332, 805. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Arlt, R., Senthamizh Pavai, V., Schmiel, C., Spada, F.: 2016, Astron. Astrophys. 595, A104. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Beijing Observatory: 1985, An integrated catalogue of Chinese local treatises, Zhinghua Book Company, Beijing, in Chinese. Google Scholar
  10. Brandt, P.N., Schmidt, W., Steinegger, M.: 1990, Solar Phys. 129, 191. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Carrasco, V.M.S., Vaquero, J.M., Gallego, M.C., Trigo, R.M.: 2014, New Astron. 25, 95. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Carrasco, V.M.S., Alvarez, J.V., Vaquero, J.M.: 2015a, Observatory 135, 257. ADSGoogle Scholar
  13. Carrasco, V.M.S., Alvarez, J.V., Vaquero, J.M.: 2015b, Solar Phys. 290, 2719. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Carrasco, V.M.S., Vaquero, J.M.: 2016, Solar Phys. 291, 2493. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Carrington, R.C.: 1863, Observations of the Spots on the Sun: From November 9, 1853, to March 24, 1861, Made at Redhill, Williams Norgate, London. Google Scholar
  16. Clette, F., Lefèvre, L.: 2016, Solar Phys. 291, 2629. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Clette, F., Svalgaard, L., Vaquero, J.M., Cliver, E.W.: 2014, Space Sci. Rev. 186, 35. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cliver, E.W.: 2017, J. Space Weather Space Clim. 7, A12. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Denig, W.F., McVaugh, M.R.: 2017, Space Weather 15(7), 857. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Domínguez-Castro, F., Gallego, M.C., Vaquero, J.M.: 2017, J. Space Weather Space Clim. 7, A15. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Eddy, J.A.: 1980, In: Pepen, R.O., Eddy, J.A., Merrill, R.G. (eds.) The Ancient Sun: Fossil Record in the Earth, Moon and Meteorites, Pergamon Press, New York/Oxford, 119. Google Scholar
  22. Fujiyama, M., Hayakawa, H., Iju, T., Kawai, T., Toriumi, S., Otsuji, K., et al.: 2019, Solar Phys. 294, 43. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Goldstein, B.R.: 1969, Centaurus 14(1), 49. DOI. ADSMathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hathaway, D.H.: 2010, Living Rev. Solar Phys. 7, 1. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hathaway, D.H., Wilson, R.M., Reichmann, E.J.: 2002, Solar Phys. 211, 357. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hayakawa, H., Tamazawa, H., Kawamura, A.D., Isobe, H.: 2015, Earth Planets Space 67, 82. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hayakawa, H., Iwahashi, K., Ebihara, Y., Tamazawa, H., Shibata, K., Knipp, D.J., et al.: 2017a, Astrophys. J. Lett. 850, L31. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hayakawa, H., Iwahashi, K., Tamazawa, H., Ebihara, Y., Kawamura, A.D., Isobe, H., et al.: 2017b, Publ. Astron. Soc. Japan 69, 86. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hayakawa, H., Tamazawa, H., Ebihara, Y., Miyahara, H., Kawamura, A.D., Aoyama, T., Isobe, H.: 2017c, Publ. Astron. Soc. Japan 69, 65. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hayakawa, H., Iwahashi, K., Fujiyama, M., Kawai, T., Toriumi, S., Hotta, H., et al.: 2018a, Publ. Astron. Soc. Japan 70, 63. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hayakawa, H., Iwahashi, K., Toriumi, S., Tamazawa, H., Shibata, K.: 2018b, Solar Phys. 293, 8. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hayakawa, H., Willis, D.M., Hattori, K., Notsu, Y., Wild, M.N., Karoff, C.: 2019, Solar Phys. 294, 95. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Heath, A.W.: 1994, J. Br. Astron. Assoc. 104, 304. ADSGoogle Scholar
  34. Hoyt, D.V., Schatten, K.H.: 1998, Solar Phys. 181, 491. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Inceoglu, F., Knudsen, M.F., Karoff, C., Olsen, J.: 2014, Solar Phys. 289, 4377. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Keimatsu, M.: 1970, Ann. Science, Kanazawa Univ., Part I 7, 1. Google Scholar
  37. Keller, H.U., Friedli, T.K.: 1992, Q. J. Roy. Astron. Soc. 33, 83. ADSGoogle Scholar
  38. Koyama, H.: 1985, Observations of Sunspots, 1947 – 1984, Kawadeshobo Shinsha, Tokyo. Google Scholar
  39. Lee, E., Ahn, Y., Yang, H., Chen, K.: 2004, Solar Phys. 224, 373. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Lefèvre, L., Aparicio, A.J.P., Gallego, M.C., Vaquero, J.M.: 2016, Solar Phys. 291, 2609. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Lockwood, M., Owens, M.J., Barnard, L., Usoskin, I.G.: 2016a, Solar Phys. 291, 2829. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Lockwood, M., Scott, C.J., Owens, M.J., Barnard, L., Willis, D.M.: 2016b, Solar Phys. 291, 2785. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Lockwood, M., Owens, M.J., Barnard, L.A., Scott, C.J., Watt, C.E.: 2017, J. Space Weather Space Clim. 7, A25. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Lu, L.: 2004, Nat. Mag. 2003/04, 243, in Chinese. Google Scholar
  45. Lu, L., Li, H.: 2013, J. Astron. Hist. Herit. 16, 45. ADSGoogle Scholar
  46. Lu, L., Shi, Y.: 2007, Chin. J. Hist. Sci. Tech. 2009/01, 143, in Chinese. Google Scholar
  47. Ma, L.: 2004 In: Studies in the History of Natural Sciences 2004/02, 121, in Chinese. Google Scholar
  48. Mathew, S.K., Martínez Pillet, V., Solanki, S.K., Krivova, N.A.: 2007, Astron. Astrophys. 465, 291. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Owens, B.: 2013, Nature 495, 300. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Orchiston, W.: 2004, J. Astron. Data 10, 219. Google Scholar
  51. Orchiston, W., Buchanan, A., Price, G., Sprent, T.: 2015, J. Astron. Hist. Herit. 18, 149. ADSGoogle Scholar
  52. Ratcliff, J.: 2008, The Transit of Venus Enterprise in Victorian Britain, Pickering & Chatto, London. Google Scholar
  53. Royal Greenwich Observatory: 1907, Photo-Heliographic Results 1874 to 1885, Being Supplementary Results from Photographs of the Sun Taken at Greenwich, at Harvard College, USA, at Melbourne, in India, and in Mauritius in the Years 1874 to 1885: And Measured and Reduced at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, HM Stationery Office, Edinburgh. Google Scholar
  54. Russell, H.C.: 1892, In: Observations of the Transit of Venus, 9 December 1874, Her Majesty’s Government in New South Wales, Ill., Sydney. Google Scholar
  55. Schaefer, B.E.: 1993, Astrophys. J. 411, 909. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Snellen, H.: 1862, Probebuchstaben zur Bestimmung der Sehschärfe, Utrecht. Google Scholar
  57. Stephenson, F.R., Willis, D.M.: 1999, Astron. Geophys. 40, 21. Google Scholar
  58. Strom, R.: 2015, In: Orchiston, W., Green, D.A., Strom, R. (eds.) New Insights from Recent Studies in Historical Astronomy: Following in the Footsteps of F. Richard Stephenson, Springer, New York, 191. Google Scholar
  59. Svalgaard, L.: 2017, Solar Phys. 292, 4. DOI ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Svalgaard, L., Schatten, K.H.: 2016, Solar Phys. 291, 2653. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Tamazawa, H., Kawamura, A.D., Hayakawa, H., Tsukamoto, A., Isobe, H., Ebihara, Y.: 2017, Publ. Astron. Soc. Japan 69, 22. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. USNO: 2018, The Astronomical Almanac for the Year 2019, US Gov. Pub. Office, Washington Google Scholar
  63. Usoskin, I.G.: 2017, Living Rev. Solar Phys. 14, 3. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Usoskin, I.G., Arlt, R., Asvestari, E., Hawkins, E., Käpylä, M., Kovaltsov, G.A., et al.: 2015, Astron. Astrophys. 581, A95. DOI. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Vaquero, J.M.: 2004, Solar Phys. 223, 283. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Vaquero, J.M.: 2007a, Adv. Space Res. 40, 929. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Vaquero, J.M.: 2007b, J. Brit. Astron. Assoc. 117, 346. ADSGoogle Scholar
  68. Vaquero, J.M., Gallego, M.C.: 2002, Solar Phys. 206, 209. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Vaquero, J.M., Gallego, M.C., García, J.A.: 2002, Geophys. Res. Lett. 29, 1997. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Vaquero, J.M., Vázquez, M.: 2009, The Sun Recorded Through History, Springer, New York. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Vaquero, J.M., Svalgaard, L., Carrasco, V.M.S., Clette, F., Lefèvre, L., Gallego, M.C., et al.: 2016, Solar Phys. 291, 3061. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Vyssotsky, A.N.: 1949, Medd. Lunds Astronom. Observ. Ser. II 126, 3. Google Scholar
  73. Wade, P.: 1994, J. Brit. Astron. Assoc. 104, 86. ADSGoogle Scholar
  74. Waldmeier, M.: 1961, The Sunspot Activity in the Years 1610 – 1960, Schulthess, Zurich. Google Scholar
  75. Willis, D.M., Davda, V.N., Stephenson, F.R.: 1996, Q. J. Roy. Astron. Soc. 37, 189. ADSGoogle Scholar
  76. Willis, D.M., Easterbrook, M.G., Stephenson, F.R.: 1980, Nature 287, 617. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Willis, D.M., Stephenson, F.R.: 2001, Ann. Geophys. 19, 289. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Willis, D.M., Armstrong, G.M., Ault, C.E., Stephenson, F.R.: 2005, Ann. Geophys. 23(3), 945. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Willis, D.M., Coffey, H.E., Henwood, R., Erwin, E.H., Hoyt, D.V., Wild, M.N., Denig, W.F.: 2013a, Solar Phys. 288, 117. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Willis, D.M., Henwood, R., Wild, M.N., Coffey, H.E., Denig, W.F., Erwin, E.H., Hoyt, D.V.: 2013b, Solar Phys. 288, 141. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Willis, D.M., Wild, M.N., Appleby, G.M., Macdonald, L.T.: 2016, Solar Phys. 291, 2553. DOI. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Willis, D.M., Wilkinson, J., Scott, C.J., Wild, M.N., Stephenson, F.R., Hayakawa, H., Brugge, R., Macdonald, L.T.: 2018, Space Weather, 16, 1740. ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Wittmann, A.D., Xu, Z.T.: 1987, Astron. Astrophys. Suppl. Ser. 70, 83. ADSGoogle Scholar
  84. Xu, Z., Pankenier, D.W., Jiang, Y.: 2000, East Asian Archaeoastronomy, Gordon & Breach, Amsterdam. Google Scholar
  85. Yamamoto, I.: 1935, Kwasan Bull. 4, 2. Google Scholar
  86. Yamamoto, I.: 1937, Isis 26(2), 330. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Yau, K.K.C., Stephenson, F.R.: 1988, Q. J. Roy. Astron. Soc. 29, 175. ADSGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hisashi Hayakawa
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Mitsuru Sôma
    • 3
  • Kiyotaka Tanikawa
    • 3
  • David M. Willis
    • 2
    • 4
  • Matthew N. Wild
    • 2
  • Lee T. Macdonald
    • 5
  • Shinsuke Imada
    • 6
  • Kentaro Hattori
    • 7
  • F. Richard Stephenson
    • 8
  1. 1.Graduate School of LettersOsaka UniversityToyonakaJapan
  2. 2.Rutherford Appleton LaboratoryDidcotUK
  3. 3.National Astronomical Observatory of JapanMitakaJapan
  4. 4.Centre for Fusion, Space and Astrophysics, Department of PhysicsUniversity of WarwickCoventryUK
  5. 5.History of Science MuseumOxfordUK
  6. 6.Institute for Space-Earth Environmental ResearchNagoya UniversityNagoyaJapan
  7. 7.Graduate School of ScienceKyoto UniversitySakyo-kuJapan
  8. 8.Department of PhysicsUniversity of DurhamDurhamUK

Personalised recommendations