By the degree of interest in today’s eclipse of the sun, you would think that this is a very rare event. It is for the United States, where a band of totality 70 miles wide is crossing from coast to coast.
But the planet and its moon have a predictable three-dimensional relationship with the sun.
Eighteen years, 11 months and eight hours from now – that’s in 2035 – the eclipse shadow will cross Southeast Asia in an arc-shaped path. Eighteen years, 11 months and eight hours after that – in 2053 – the eclipse will cross northern Africa. Next up, after the same length of time (in 2071), Mexico across northern South America.
What makes the full eclipses possible is that the moon, which is 400 times smaller than the sun, has an orbit that can be 400 times closer to Earth. If the moon were closer or farther from the sun, there would be no full eclipse. A full eclipse requires than the sun’s corona – light from its atmosphere – be visible, and not just be blocked out.
Whatever forces put the solar system in place, they created a complex one. The three orbits are elliptical, and off to one side.
All this information, aided by some very skilled diagrams to aid in understanding, is thanks to The New York Times.
Here in Southwest Colorado, we’ll have about 82 percent coverage. That is sufficient to turn the light to gray for a short period before noon, but nothing like the darkness that will occur in the 70-mile path. There, philosophers claim, will occur an environment which will produce all sorts of metaphysical feelings about humankind’s oneness.
Those experiencing the full eclipse, and there are a lot of them, will have stories to tell.
But be careful with your eyes. If you do not have approved glasses, observe a image of the event on a paper plate placed on the ground. Use a second paper plate with a small hole in it to route the diminishing light, the light from the corona and then the returning light onto the first plate. Plan how to locate the plates as the change in light will take place quickly.
As to using a colander, that is fine if the colander is held to put the image on the plate on the ground. Do not hold the colander up to the light to look through it.
Enjoy the eclipse and have stories to tell of its effect. And while it is underway, think about the extraordinary nature of the solar system.