(from celestial signs to celestial sciences)

Focus Meeting FM 5
Understanding historical observations to study transient phenomena
during the 2018 General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union
(Vienna, Austria, 2018 Aug 22 & 23)
SOC co-chairs are Thomas Posch (U Vienna) and Ralph Neuhäuser (U Jena)

Our projects
Our team
PI Ralph Neuhäuser
Our collaborations
Our publications
Student thesis work
Teaching and Outreach

We use terrestrial archives (historical written, oral, and drawings as well as radioisotopes on Earth) to study effects of variable solar activity and nearby stellar explosions on Earth: The long-term irradiance variation of our Sun affects atmosphere, climate, and biosphere of the Earth. Nearby explosive events (like strong flares on our Sun, normal stars, and neutron stars, novae and supernovae, as well as gamma-ray bursts) deposit high-energy emission into the Earth atmosphere. Both, the steady flux of Galactic cosmic rays into the Solar system – modulated by the variable solar wind – and the transient flux from high-energy events generate radioisotopes (like 10Be, 14C) on Earth, so that they can be used to study such effects.

One can reconstruct solar activity and can identify relevant stellar explosions over the last few millenia using both radioisotopes on Earth and historical observational reports about aurorae, comets, sunspots, (super-)novae, etc. from all civilizations on Earth: While European and Eastern Asian reports have been studied already, historical documents from Arabia were not considered much, yet. Terra-Astronomy is universal and trans-disciplinary. European, Byzantine, and East Asian reports date back up to 2000–3000 years. One can try to use Babylonian, Assyrian, Hithite, and Egyptian reports to go back even further.

The ultimate goals are (i) to understand solar activity variations well enough for sufficiently precise expectations of solar activity for the next few years and decades (space weather and Earth climate), and (ii) to evaluate possible effects of nearby explosions on climate and evolution on Earth in the past.

In an additional, complimentary project part, we investigate the pre-historic epoch with neutron stars and runaway stars – both the last 100,000 years with supernova remnants and even the last few million years.

The Earth is truely a celestial body, and it is subject to variable emission from the Sun and from many other celestial objects.

In comparison to similar fields...

  • Terra-Astronomy is also a study of space weather: it covers several millennia and uses historical archives, but it includes studying space weather (solar storms in the near Earth environment like the low-Earth orbits of satellites and astronauts) on all time-scales;

  • it is not just a study of catastrophic events (like asteroids hitting Earth), but instead studies variations of emission on all time-scales, and it includes explosive events;

  • it is a study of solar-terrestrial relations and extends this subject to all other relevant astrophysical phenomena;

  • it is not just a natural science, but a trans-displiplinary endeavour with science, humanities, and arts, e.g. the interpretation of celestial observations and their impact on history;

  • it is applied historical astronomy with the reconstruction of naked-eye astronomy, and also involves terrestrial radioisotope archives and new current astronomical (follow-up) observations; and

  • it is not only about history of science, because we use historical archives for advancing certain fields of astrophysics – yet, we also study the history of astronomy.

Astronomy is one of very few scientific disciplines, where historical observations and data – as reported in manuscripts of previous centuries and millennia (partly also oral tradition, cave paintings and drawings) – can be used not only to study the history of this field (and to constrain chronologies in general), but also to obtain new results at the forefront of actual astrophysical science: Solar activity, space weather, supernovae, comets, etc.

Our project is feasible for the last few millenia, namely since reports were written and preserved.

This project has a strong potential for public awareness on our dependance on external factors and worldwide citizen science with non-professional historians and high-school students searching for more reports about celestial events in their local chronicles. Terra-Astronomy is highly trans-disciplinary: Astronomy, solar and plasma physics, geophysics (Earth magnetic field), biology and meteorology (effects on atmosphere, weather, biosphere), history, languages, cultural impact of astronomical observations on civilizations, etc.

While astronomy so far was the study of everything in the Universe but Earth, Terra-Astronomy also studies Terra (planet Earth) with astrophysical methods: Planet Earth – for us – is an important part of the Universe.

Our projects:

  • Solar activity proxies AD 550 to 900

  • Completeness of historical observations

  • Solar activity with comet tail lengths

  • Solar activity in the Maunder minimum

  • Drawings of celestial observations in historical chronicles

  • Cultural relevance of halo sightings

  • Historical supernovae in Arabic documents

  • Super-flares on Sun-like stars

Our team:

  • R. Neuhäuser (PI)

  • M. Geymeier (sunspots)

  • M. Kitze (flares on Sun-like stars)

  • M. Mugrauer (naked-eye astronomy reconstruction)

  • D.L. Neuhäuser (proxies and patterns; text analysis and critique; cultural relevance)

  • D. Wagner (current and past solar activity)

  • O. Lux (nearby Supernovae)

Our collaborations:

  • Mark Csikszentmihalyi, U Berkeley, USA &
    Jesse Chapman, U Stanford, USA
    East-Asian celestial observations

  • Paul Kunitzsch, LMU München,
    Arabic celestial observations

  • Rainer Arlt, AIP Potsdam,

  • Wafiq Rada, Babylon, Iraq (deceased 2015),
    Arabic celestial observations

  • Amir Harrak, U Toronto, Canada,
    Syriac celestial observations

  • Klaus-Dieter Herbst, Jena,
    Historical European celestial observations

  • Detlev Quintern, Istanbul, Turkey,
    Arabic manuscripts

  • Nikolaus Vogt, U Valparaiso, Chile:
    Historical Novae

Our publications:

  • Neuhäuser R., Neuhäuser D.L., Rada W., Chapman J., Luge, D., Kunitzsch P. (2017): "Interpretation of the historic Yemeni reports of supernova SN 1006: early discovery in mid-April 1006 ?", Astron. Nachr. 338, 8-18,

  • Neuhäuser R., Ehrig-Eggert C., Kunitzsch P. (2017): "An Arabic report about supernova 1006 by Ibn Sina (Avicenna)". Astron. Nachr. 338, 19-25,

  • Neuhäuser, R., Rada, W., Kunitzsch, P. and Neuhäuser, D.L. (2016): Arabic Reports about Supernovae 1604 and 1572 in Rawḥ al-Rūḥ by cĪsā b. Luṭf Allāh from Yemen. J. Hist. Astron. 47, 359–374,
    http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2016JHA....47..359N, PDF

  • Neuhäuser R. & Neuhäuser D.L. (2016): "Teleskopische Beobachtungen von Sonnenflecken durch Simon Marius in den Jahren 1611 bis 1619". In: Gaab H. & Leich P. (Eds.): Simon Marius und seine Forschung, Acta Historica Astronomiae, Vol. 57, Akademische Verlagsanstalt, Leipzig, 179–198,

  • Neuhäuser R., Kunitzsch P., Mugrauer M., Luge D., van Gent R. (2016): "Tycho Brahe, Abu Macshar, and the comet beyond Venus (ninth century A.D.)". J. Hist. Astron. 47, 136-158, PDF

  • Neuhäuser R. & Neuhäuser D.L. (2016): "Sunspot numbers based on historic records in the 1610s – early telescopic observations by Simon Marius and others". Astron. Nachr. 337, 581-620

  • Neuhäuser R. & Neuhäuser D.L: (2015): Variations of 14-C around AD 775 and AD 1795 – due to solar activity. Astron. Nachr. 336, 930-954

  • Neuhäuser D.L. & Neuhäuser R. (2015): "A red cross appeared in the sky" and other celestial signs: Presumable European aurorae in the mid AD 770s were halo displays. Astron. Nachr. 336, 913-929

  • Neuhäuser R., Arlt R., Pfitzner E., Richter S. (2015): Newly found sunspot observations by Peter Becker from Rostock for 1708, 1709, and 1710. Astron. Nachr. 336, 623-633

  • Chapman J., Neuhäuser D.L., Neuhäuser R., Csikszentmihalyi M. (2015): A review of East Asian reports of aurorae and comets circa AD 775. Astron. Nachr. 336, 530-544

  • Neuhäuser R. & Neuhäuser D.L. (2015): Solar activity around AD 775 from aurorae and radiocarbon. Astron. Nachr. 336, 225-248

  • Rada W. & Neuhäuser R. (2015): Supernova SN 1006 in two historic Yemeni reports. Astron. Nachr. 336, 249-257

  • Neuhäuser D.L. & Neuhäuser R., (2015): Himmelspredigt - Haloerscheinungen in der Reformationszeit. In: Salatowsky, S. & Lotze, K.H. (Eds.) Katalog zur Ausstellung "Himmelsspektakel. Astronomie im Protestantismus der Frühen Neuzeit". Veröffentlichungen der Forschungsbibliothek Gotha, Vol. 52, Gotha 2015, 12-23, PDF

  • Neuhäuser, R., Kunitzsch, P. and Rada, W. (2015): Arabic observations of historic supernovae. In: Wolfschmidt, G. (Ed.): Astronomie in Franken. Von den Anfängen bis zur modernen Astrophysik. 125 Jahre Dr. Karl Remeis-Sternwarte Bamberg (1889). Tagung des Arbeitskreises Astronomiegeschichte in der Astronomischen Gesellschaft 2014. Nuncius Hamburgensis 31, tredition. Hamburg, 519–559.

  • Neuhäuser D.L. & Neuhäuser R. (2014): In den Himmeln erschien ein rotes Kruzifix: Halo-Code und Halo-Vergessenheit. In: Wolfschmidt, G. (Ed.): Proc. Der Himmel über Tübingen – Barocksternwarten – Landesvermessung – Hochenergieastrophysik. Tagung des Arbeitskreises Astronomiegeschichte in der Astronomischen Gesellschaft 2013, Nuncius Hamburgensis 28, tredition, Hamburg, 470-518, PDF

  • Neuhäuser R. & Neuhäuser D.L. (2014): Historische Beobachtungen als Schlüssel für das Verständnis von Radiocarbon-Schwankungen. In: Wolfschmidt, G. (Ed.): Proc. Der Himmel über Tübingen – Barocksternwarten – Landesvermessung – Hochenergieastrophysik. Tagung des Arbeitskreises Astronomiegeschichte in der Astronomischen Gesellschaft 2013, Nuncius Hamburgensis 28, tredition, Hamburg, 465-469, PDF

  • Neuhäuser R. & Kunitzsch P. (2014): A transient event in AD 775 reported by al-abarī: A bolide – not a nova, supernova, or kilonova. Astron. Nachr. 335, 968-980

  • Chapman J., Csikszentmihalyi M., Neuhäuser R. (2014): The Chinese comet observation in AD 773 January. Astron. Nachr. 335, 964-967

  • Neuhäuser R. & Hambaryan V.V. (2014): A solar super-flare as cause for the 14C variation in AD 774/5 ?. Astron. Nachr. 335, 949-963

  • Kitze M., Neuhäuser R., Hambaryan V.V., Ginski, C. (2014): Superflares on the slowly rotating solar type stars KIC10524994 and KIC07133671. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 442, 3769-3776

  • Hambaryan V.V. & Neuhäuser R. (2013): A Galactic short gamma-ray burst as cause for the 14C peak in AD 774/5. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 430, 32-36

Student thesis work:

  • Markus Drüke, Bachelor thesis:
    Solar activity from C-14 (2014)

  • Tamara Zehe, Bachelor thesis:
    Location of geo-magnetic pole from aurorae (2014)

  • Danny Hässner, Bachelor thesis:
    Two-dimensional sunspot counting from the butterfly diagram (2015)

  • Susanne Richter, Master thesis:
    Solar activity proxies in the Maunder Minimum in letters to and from Kirch (2015)

  • Jan Sende, Master thesis:
    Cosmic-ray impacts on Earth and radionuclei production (2015)

  • Cora Preiß, Bachelor thesis:
    Aurorae in the Oort, Wolf, and Spörer Grand Minima (2015)

  • Marie Sophie Zeidler, Bachelor thesis:
    Historical Novae (2016)

  • Manfred Kitze, PhD thesis:
    Flares on Sun-like stars in Kepler data (2017)

  • Daniel Wagner, PhD thesis:
    Current and past solar activity (ongoing)

  • Oliver Lux, PhD thesis:
    Runaway stars in nearby young supernova remnants (ongoing)

Teaching and Outreach:

  • Lecture with excercises and seminar on "Terra-Astronomy" (Summer 2017)

  • Advanced seminar on "Stellar variability and Terra Astronomy" (Fall 2015/26)

  • Ausstellung Himmelsspektakel Gotha with participation by us: PDF

  • Lecture with exercises and seminar on "Terra-Astronomy" (Summer 2015)

  • Advanced seminar on "Solar activity reconstruction" (Fall 2014/15): schedule

  • Advanced seminar on "Historical Astronomy" (Fall 2016/17): schedule

  • Lecture with exercises and seminar on "Terra-Astronomy" (Summer 2017)

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