solar disc

Proba-2 partial eclipse, 26 February 2017

On 26 February, an annular solar eclipse took place over South America and Africa.

A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between Earth and the Sun, totally or partially blocking the Sun from Earth’s point of view. In an annular eclipse, the apparent diameter of the Moon appears smaller than the Sun’s diameter, such that a ring of the solar disc remains visible.

ESA’s Proba-2 satellite observed a series of partial eclipses from space. In fact, the Moon crossed the satellite’s field of view four times, three times passing in front of the Sun.

This image is shows one of the partial eclipses, taken by Proba-2’s SWAP imager, which snaps the Sun in ultraviolet light to capture the turbulent surface of the Sun and its swirling corona.


Pyramidion, or pyramid cap of king Amenemhat III, height 140 cm, basalt, from Dahshur - Giza, Middle Kingdom, 12th Dynasty. 

The pyramidion is a small pyramidal-shaped stone representing the benben or the primeval mountain, the first to emerge from the ocean at the creation of the world by the NTR Atum .. It´s decorated with a solar disc flanked by two cobras with outspread wings. The two eyes are to see the neferu, the beauty of Ra, as inscribed there in 

Kassite Kudurru (Boundary Stone), c. 1125-1100 BC

The cuneiform inscription on this kudurru records the granting by Eanna-shum-iddina, the governor of the Sealand, of five gur of corn land in the district of Edina in south Babylonia to a man called Gula-eresh. The boundaries of the land are laid out; the surveyor is named as Amurru-bel-zeri and the transfer completed by two high officials who are also named.

Nine gods are invoked to protect the monument, along with seventeen divine symbols. The symbols of the important Mesopotamian gods are most prominent: the solar disc of the sun-god Shamash, the crescent of the moon-god Sin and the eight-pointed star of Ishtar, goddess of fertility and war. The square boxes beneath these signs represent altars supporting the symbols of gods, including horned headdresses, the triangular spade of Marduk, and the wedge-shaped stylus of Nabu, the god of writing.

A prominent snake is shown on many kudurru and may, like many of the symbols, be related to the constellations. The text ends with curses on anyone who removes, ignores or destroys the kudurru.

The Sealand was one of the wealthiest regions of Babylonia. A dynasty called ‘Sealand’ first appears in records dating to the middle of the second millennium BC. It controlled the coastline of the south of Iraq and thus the trade routes down the Gulf. The Sealand rulers were defeated by the Kassite kings of Babylon in the fifteenth century BC and governors like Eanna-shum-iddina were then appointed to administer the region.

Rare Egyptian Limestone Stele for Tutu, Late Ptolemaic - Roman Period, 1st Century BC/AD

Sculpted in relief in the form of a naos with a cavetto cornice surmounted with a row of twenty-four stylized uraei supported by two columns at either end, with the god Tutu depicted as a sphinx walking to the right, the lean and elongated body with the ribs protruding, the head turned to face outwards, surrounded by a thick mane-like wig with a tni crown of rams horns and plumes, the curling tail terminating with a cobra head, a knife in each paw, a winged solar disc with cobra above

A rare subject matter, Tutu, meaning ‘he who keep enemies at a distance’, was an apotropaic god venerated mainly in the Greco-Roman Period.

Aztec solar disc stone The solar disc was the emblem of the sun, known to the Aztecs as Tonatiuh, whom they imagined as a vigorous youth covered in red body paint and with ochre and yellow face paint. They believed that he was guided in his passage across the sky by Xiuhcoatl, the legendary fiery serpent that was also the deadly weapon that Tonatiuh used against his enemies in the underworld, the stars and the moon…. [This disc] is a simplified version of [the Sunstone]. The sun is represented here by four rays and by four sacred cactus thorns on the outside… In the centre is the calendrical number of the Fifth Sun (“4-Movement”). The date “6-Rabbit” appears in the border. It may refer to the year in which the stone was carved or to that of a historical event.


Middle Assyrian Chalcedony Cylinder Seal with a Lion-Dragon, 1300-1200 BC

This has the image of Ashur*, chief god of Assyria, on a winged solar disc facing a scorpion-tailed lion-dragon**. Above the lion-dragon is a recumbent crescent moon, a symbol of Sin, the moon god and alongside it is an eight-pointed star which represents the goddess Ishtar. Next are seven dots representing the Sebittu, seven benevolent gods whose power could be harnessed against evil by means of magic incantation. Astrologically these dots were identified with the Pleiades. There were temples dedicated to the Sebbitu at the Assyrian cities of Kalhu (Nimrud), Dur-Sharrukin (Khorsabad) and Nineveh.

*The god in the winged sun disc could also be Shamash, the sun god. Scholars are not all in agreement over which god is being represented within the winged sun disc in Assyrian art. Ashur is an indistinct deity with no clear iconography of his own. When he is represented in art his attributes tend to be borrowed from another god (in this case Shamash), which makes it difficult to definitively identify him.

**The lion-dragon is a beast which could be a reference to either the chief Assyrian god Ashur, the moon god Sin or the storm god Adad.


Extremely Rare Assyrian Bronze Sword Hilt, 8th-7th Century BC

The pommel is decorated with plant motifs (large rosette surrounded by a wreath of palmettes) and four identical metopes; in each, the symbol of the winged solar disc is carved in relief. The use of this symbol was widespread in Assyrian monuments, including in the large reliefs that adorned the walls of the palaces, where it was most often associated with the figure of the king (fighting, ritual, initiation scenes, etc.). The meaning of the solar disc remains hypothetical, some scholars claim that the winged solar disc represents the god Assur, the patron deity of the city of Ashur, while others would rather relate it to the Mesopotamian sun god (Shamash/Utu).

The element for the wedging of the blade is decorated with two lion heads merging into each other at the level of the lower jaws; the blade thus appeared to emerge directly from the wide open mouths of the two big cats. In Near Eastern cultures, lions were a symbol of power and strength and were therefore used to characterize mostly warrior kings and deities associated with war.

The manufacturing technique and artistic quality of this object are excellent, equaling those of the best Assyrian productions. Perfectly preserved Assyrian swords are extremely rare and no close parallels can currently be suggested for this piece, which may nonetheless be compared to the weapons worn by the kings, dignitaries and warriors on the high reliefs of Assyrian palaces, often provided with very sophisticated hilts (see in particular the sword of the king or the prince on a relief from Nineveh, now in Berlin, depicting a lion hunt). Given its light weight and very careful execution, this hilt might have been part of a parade, ceremonial or ritual weapon, rather than of a sword used as a weapon of war.


Egyptianized Near Eastern Hematite Cylinder Seal, Syria, 1820-1730 BC

In the area that corresponds roughly with the boundaries of modern Syria and Lebanon, there arose in the first half of the second millennium BC many centers of culture that maintained contact with lands both to the east and the west. The seals produced in this region—in a number of local styles—often bear imagery and stylistic features that relate them to Egyptian and Aegean art.

The main scene on this cylinder seal depicts a worshiper (probably the king) before a divinity, who holds a vase (?) and is seated above two human-headed bulls. The god is enthroned on a stool with lion legs of a type known from actual contemporary remains in wood and ivory from both Egypt and Anatolia. The smaller images include a sphinx wearing an Egyptian crown, attacking an antelope; an ankh, the Egyptian symbol for life; a winged solar disc representing Shamash over a recumbent crescent moon representing Sin; two eight pointed stars representing Ishtar; a kneeling bird-man under a plait-like motif which probably represents subterranean fresh water; a quadruped and a monkey are in front of the king, possibly as sacrificial offerings to the seated god.  

As Europe enjoyed a partial solar eclipse on the morning of Friday 20 March 2015, ESA’s Sun-watching Proba-2 minisatellite had a ringside seat from orbit. Proba-2 used its SWAP imager to capture the Moon passing in front of the Sun. SWAP views the solar disc at extreme ultraviolet wavelengths to capture the turbulent surface of the Sun and its swirling corona.

Credit: ESA