A team of scientists said an ancient Chinese text describes the oldest known record of what we would call an aurora borealis , or “the northern lights”, which they believe happened in the 10th century BC, or about 300 years before the next chronicle of the celestial event from the Assyrians. The text was found in the Bamboo Annals , a written history that describes ancient China starting during the mythological period of the Yellow Emperor around 2700BC to the Warring States Period (475–221BC). It describes a “five-coloured light” during the reign of King Zhao (977–957BC) of the Zhou dynasty (1046–256BC). According to the paper, published in Advances in Space Research in January, the event happened near an ancient settlement called Haojing, which is now Xianyang in Shanxi province in central China. In the present day, auroras are occasionally observed in China’s far northern Heilongjiang province, but very rarely in the central region of the country. The study said that the earth’s north magnetic pole is known to have been inclined about 15 degrees closer to central China than at present, and the phenomenon could therefore have been visible to observers in central China at “times of significant magnetic disturbance”. Marinus Anthony van der Sluijs, an independent researcher based in Canada, said that the presence of the aurora in an important historical record means it was probably an event that was “rare enough to be worthy of inclusion in any annals but not unusual from a scientific point of view”. His co-author, Hisashi Hayakawa from Nagoya University in Japan, said “The auroral visibility in China indicates an occurrence of a quite intense geomagnetic storm at that time”. Black swan metaphor had a different meaning until nature intervened The scientists refer to the event as a “candidate aurora” in the paper because there is not enough evidence to definitively prove that the celestial storm happened. Crucial to this discovery is that the Bamboo Annals had two versions, a controversial “current text” published in the 16th century, which has been widely deemed unreliable by historians, and an “ancient text” published in the 4th century BC, which is incomplete. In the current text, the Chinese text described a “fuzzy star”, which has been interpreted to mean a comet. But the ancient text describes a “five-coloured light”, suggesting that an ancient scribe may have incorrectly changed the original text to refer to a comet, said van der Sluijs. If the research of Hayakawa and van der Sluijs is correct, it would predate the Assyrian record of an aurora event by 300 years, when scholars described the northern lights around 679 – 655BC. At that time, scholars wrote an Assyrian tablet that had many descriptions of celestial events, including what had been the oldest record of an aurora. The earliest drawings of an aurora came much later, in the 8th century CE, in a journal written in a Syriac language. Interestingly, the Buddhist monk Tanmozui appears to have cited the ancient Chinese description of the “five-coloured light” in 520, which he described as a phenomenon that “spread all over the western part [of the sky], which became all blue and red”.