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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
Article

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Sunspot Unaided-eye sunspot Chinese records Venus transit 

Notes

Acknowledgments

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.

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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

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