The “Great American Eclipse” of 2017 had more viewers than the Super Bowl. According to Nielson ratings, the 2017 Super Bowl had 111 million viewers on TV. About 215 million adults, or 88 percent of the United States adult population, watched the eclipse. That total includes those who watched it live, plus TV and internet viewers. Of course, many children watched it too.
The University of Michigan and NASA compiled the viewing statistics with a joint survey. Sixty-one million adults in the United States watched the eclipse on TV, computers, tablets, or phones. Unlike the Super Bowl the vast majority, about 154 million, watched it directly with the aid of viewing glasses or pinhole cameras. About 20 million traveled to locations where they could see the totality. I can testify that the roads in southern Illinois were crowded with travelers. After the eclipse, it took 3 hours to drive 40 miles. You can watch a speeded-up view of the eclipse on this video. Be sure to turn the sound up so that you can hear the reaction of the people around me during the eclipse.
In addition to a large viewership, the satisfaction rate was high. Seven out of ten said they were not disappointed. (Probably about half of the Super Bowl crowd was disappointed because their team lost.) If you listen to the video that I edited, you can tell that the crowd on the bluff overlooking the Ohio River was not disappointed.
We are pleased that there was this much interest in a science-related event. God’s creation can draw more viewers than the Super Bowl.
One month ago today a total solar eclipse crossed the United States. The so-called Great American Eclipse had many interesting things associated with it.
We have pointed out in previous discussions that people have attached all kinds of erroneous connections to eclipses. Some people have suggested that the eclipse predicts the doom of kings and in recent weeks the demise of Donald Trump. We have seen religious prognostications of all kinds attached to the eclipse including the second coming of Christ. There are those who have denigrated biblical events such as the darkness at the time Christ died, saying it was just an eclipse. (No eclipse can last for three hours.) None of these claims and predictions have any value.
One message that should stand out from the eclipse is the precision that God has built into the creation of the cosmos. How can astronomers predict when eclipses will occur including the exact time for a given location? This is quite simple if you understand the design of the creation. Astronomers have a grid in the sky that is an extension of the latitude/longitude system on the surface of the Earth. All objects in space, including the Sun and the Moon, can be plotted on this grid system. This allows scientists to plot the movement of the Moon and the shadow the Moon casts on Earth. (Remember that a solar eclipse is the Moon’s shadow on the Earth.)
Many of us earth science teachers use the Earth Science Curriculum Project. It has a lab where students plot an eclipse and predict what kind of eclipse will occur. They can predict when it will start, how much of the Sun will be covered, and when it will end. One of my students commenting after doing the lab, “Wow, what engineer thought up this system?” Another student responded “No engineer did it. God did it!” The first student responded, “Well God is a pretty cool engineer!”
We have pointed out that one of the problems people have with faith is that they attempt to explain everything as mysticism and magic. When it becomes obvious that planning and design are part of the system, that understanding erodes their faith in God. A good magician can mystify us, but still, he is using methods we can understand if we learn how he did it.
We have had several questions and comments precipitated by the eclipse on August 21. Most of them centered around the fact that the Moon’s motion across the Sun was so slow. In reality, the lunar motion is very fast. The speed is a function of the Earth’s rotation as well as the Moon’s revolution around the Earth. However, when compared to space dimensions, lunar motion can seem slow.
The Moon moves with an orbital speed of 2,288 miles (3,683 km) per hour, taking about 28 days to complete its journey around the Earth. Although that sounds fast, it is quite slow in relation to the size of the cosmos. Other moons going around other planets travel at higher speeds. Io, one of the moons of Jupiter, whizzes completely around the planet in less than two days. While our Moon travels at the speed of a rifle bullet, it is 80 times slower than the speed of meteors. Saturn travels ten times faster than the Moon.
The reason we are not aware of the speeds involved is because of the incredible size of the creation. We see meteors moving fast because they are close to us. Meteors are pieces of space junk whizzing through our atmosphere so quickly that they burn up from friction with the air. The moon is over 239,000 miles (384,633 km) away, so its motion appears to be much slower.
When we look out into the night sky, we are looking far into the past. By the time we see the light from stars like Albireo, that light has traveled 430 light-years. That star is actually two stars spinning around each other. Even though they are orbiting each other and astronomers have been watching them since the seventeenth century, we have not seen them change position.
Space dimensions are beyond our comprehension, and the size of the cosmos affects what we see and how we see it. Understanding that should give a whole new significance to the words of the song How Great Thou Art. It should also expand our understanding of, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalms 19:1).
The total solar eclipse of 2017 is now history. If you were in the United States, you probably saw at least a partial eclipse. If you missed the totality, you will have another chance in about seven years. The next total solar eclipse visible in North America will be on April 8, 2024.
The eclipse of 2024 will travel from south to north. After traveling across Mexico, it will cross the US border in Texas. It will travel northeast to follow the length of Lake Erie. Then it will skirt southern Canada and northern New England. It will leave the United States when it crosses Maine before crossing New Brunswick and Newfoundland and disappearing in the North Atlantic. Major US cities within the band of totality will include Dallas/Fort Worth, Indianapolis, Cleveland, and Buffalo. Although the 2017 eclipse was total for only about 2.5 minutes, the 2024 eclipse will last about 4 minutes in totality. You can get more details about it here.
However, the eclipse of 2024 will not be the next total solar eclipse in the world. Before 2024 there will be other total solar eclipses and partial eclipses in other parts of the world. You can find information about upcoming solar eclipses here and here. You will see the dates and times for solar eclipses up to the year 3000!
By now everyone should know that there will be a total solar eclipse across the United States tomorrow. We have been writing about it in our posts for the past week. Please go back to any of them for more information. We hope that everyone knows that eclipses are not omens of some mysterious event. They are a natural phenomenon of the solar system that God designed.
The first written record of a total solar eclipse was in China in the year 2134 B.C. Apparently, that eclipse took everyone by surprise because two royal astrologers who failed to predict it, were beheaded for their crime. Since that time, people have often interpreted eclipses as omens or signs from God (or the gods) of some impending disaster. Human history has many instances of people interpreting an eclipse as a sign that something, usually bad, was about to happen. That is superstition and is not supported by the facts.
In recent years some Christians have declared eclipses, comets, or celestial alignments to be a sign that Christ is about to return or that God was about to send judgment on a nation. There have already been such claims about the total solar eclipse of 2017. That is both untrue and counterproductive for the Christian faith.
If you hear anyone saying that this eclipse is a sign of God’s judgment or Christ’s return, don’t believe it. Jesus made it clear that nobody knows when He will return. (Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32) We should always be prepared for Christ’s return because we can’t predict when it will be. It may be today, or it may not be in our lifetimes. Just remember that eclipses are not omens and neither are any other natural events.
On August 21, there will be an opportunity of a lifetime for many people across the United States. They will get to see a total solar eclipse! This will be the first total eclipse of the Sun visible in the continental United States since 1979 and the first to cross the country since 1918.
The total solar eclipse will begin its travel on land on the west coast of Oregon and move at about 1800 miles per hour to the east coast of South Carolina. Because the Moon moves across the sky from east to west, the shadow will move from west to east crossing the country in about an hour and a half. It will be total for only a little more than two minutes at any location on the path of totality. The path will be about 70 miles wide through the center of the country.
A total eclipse is much different from a partial eclipse. On a clear day with a 90 percent eclipse coverage, the Sun would still be brighter than on most cloudy days. Even a 99 percent eclipse does not have the same impact as a total eclipse. When the Moon completely blocks the Sun, it will be like nighttime. When this eclipse is at totality, Jupiter, Mercury, Mars, and Venus will be visible along with bright stars.
The most impressive sight will be one that you can only see during a total eclipse—the Sun’s corona. The corona contains particles of matter ejected from the Sun and traveling thousands of miles out into space. The particles follow the magnetic field of the Sun, and they are constantly changing with that field. The corona is always there, but it’s normally blocked from view by the scattered light in Earth’s atmosphere. Even though the corona is much dimmer than the surface (photosphere) of the Sun, it is many times hotter.
This is also the opportunity of a lifetime to see the darkness of night in the middle of the day. Looking around on the ground during totality, animals and insects may begin their nighttime activities. There will only be a 360-degree sunset-like glow on the horizon from refraction of sunlight outside of the full shadow (umbra) of the Moon.
For the moments of totality (in this case a little more than two minutes), you will be able to look directly at the Sun without special solar filters. Except for the brief time of totality DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN. Of course, if you are not in the area of the TOTAL eclipse, it is NEVER safe to look at the Sun. Many universities, libraries, and science centers have special glasses available to block the visible and UV light which could permanently damage your eyes. DO NOT USE SUNGLASSES! They will not protect your vision.
To see an animated flyover of the path of totality click HERE. To see a NASA animation of the eclipse from space click HERE. There is an interactive app that you can put on your Android or iPhone to monitor the eclipse. Just go to your app store and search for “Eclipse Safari.” NASA will be live-streaming the eclipse from across the country. You can find the live stream through Eclipse Safari or by going to nasa.gov or NASA’s YouTube channel or Facebook page.
In a few days, a total solar eclipse will cross the full width of the United States, and you can give credit for that to the just right moon.
We have looked at the “how” and “why” of total solar eclipses. We have considered what value total solar eclipses have. We have seen that a total eclipse helped to confirm a very important scientific principle. Also, we pointed out that solar eclipses happen only at the time of the new moon when the Moon is between the Earth and the Sun.
A new moon occurs about every 29 days, so why doesn’t an eclipse happen at each new moon? That’s because the plane of the orbit of the Moon around the Earth is about five degrees off from the orbital path of the Earth around the Sun. Because of that difference, a solar eclipse happens only when the Moon crosses the path of Earth’s orbit around the Sun (called the ecliptic). A TOTAL solar eclipse happens only when the Sun and Moon are exactly aligned.
What would happen if the orbit of the Moon were on the same plane as the ecliptic? At every new moon we would have a total solar eclipse, and at every full moon, we would have a total lunar eclipse. So the Sun would go dark in the daytime somewhere on Earth every month, and the full Moon would also go dark monthly. The influence of the Sun’s gravity on the lunar orbit might cause more serious problems.
Here is an interesting story of how a solar eclipse helped to confirm a scientific theory and demonstrated the value of a total solar eclipse.
Yesterday, we pointed out that it’s more than a “marvelous coincidence” that the Moon can exactly block our view of the much larger Sun. It’s an evidence of design. When the Moon hides the Sun’s photosphere, scientists can study the chromosphere and the corona to learn more about the Sun and how it affects life on Earth.
In 1687 Isaac Newton presented his universal law of gravitation answering many questions about gravity. One question that remained unanswered was how gravity can act through empty space.
In 1916 Albert Einstein presented his theory of general relativity in which he proposed that mass produces gravity by warping space. Planets orbit the Sun because the mass of the Sun and the planets causes space to be curved. The theory suggested that light would also follow a curved path because of this warping. Einstein calculated how much light would bend near a massive object and proposed that light from distant stars would be bent when it passes by the Sun.
Einstein’s idea seemed hard to believe, but there was no way to disprove it since the bright Sun hides any starlight passing near it. You can’t see the stars during the day.
Then in 1919, British astrophysicist Arthur Eddington made some measurements during a total solar eclipse. While the Moon blocked the Sun’s photosphere, Eddington made precise measurements of the apparent position of stars that were visible near the Sun. Comparing those measurements with the positions of the same stars at night, he confirmed that Einstein was correct. The light was bent as it passed by the Sun.
Yesterday we talked about the upcoming total solar eclipse and the fact that the Moon can completely hide the Sun from view. That seems very strange since the Sun is about 390 times larger than the Moon. By a “marvelous coincidence” the Sun is 390 times farther away than the Moon. Since the Sun is 390 times farther away, it appears to be 390 times smaller. For that reason, when we see the Moon and the Sun in the sky, they appear to be the same size.
The Moon can exactly cover the Sun’s disc which we call the photosphere. At the same time, in a total eclipse, we can see the chromosphere, which is the very bright atmosphere surrounding the Sun. We can also see what is called the corona–jets of hot gas which follow the lines of the Sun’s magnetic field. Under normal circumstances, the chromosphere and corona are invisible because of the glare from the photosphere.
Scientists have learned much about the Sun by studying what we can see only during total solar eclipses. Only during a total solar eclipse can scientists study the “solar wind” which sends out streams of particles called coronal mass ejections (CME). CMEs can travel all the way to Earth and knock out communication satellites or terrestrial power grids. Just as scientists work to predict weather on Earth to avoid catastrophes, they want to learn how to predict CMEs to prepare for something that could potentially knock out power or communication to large areas of our planet.
Scientists have also learned some interesting things about the Sun’s temperature during total eclipses. They had measured the temperature of the Sun’s surface to be 6,700 to 11,000 degrees F (3,700 to 6,200 degrees C). However, by observations made during total eclipses, they found that the temperature of the chromosphere is up to 14,000 degrees F (7,700 degrees C) and the corona is 3.5 million degrees F (2 million degrees C)! They are still trying to discover how that is possible.
With a total eclipse of the Sun less than a week away, let’s consider why solar eclipses happen.
A solar eclipse can occur only at the time of the new moon. The Moon appears to us in phases, and the principle phases are new moon, first quarter, full moon, and third (or last) quarter. Those phases are dependent on the relative position of the Sun, Moon, and Earth. The entire sequence of phases takes about 29.5 days, which is a synodic (or lunar) month. The new moon is the time when the Moon and the Sun are on the same side of the Earth.
Obviously, if the Moon is on the side of Earth where the Sun is, we can’t see the Moon at night. It also means we usually can’t see it during the day because the Sun’s brightness hides it except when the Moon passes in front of the Sun. When the Moon only partially blocks the Sun, we see a partial eclipse. When the Moon is precisely aligned with the Sun, we see a total eclipse.
During a total eclipse, the Moon casts a moving shadow over a portion of the Earth. Those who are outside of that shadow can still see a partial eclipse. How much of the Sun is hidden by the Moon depends on how far the viewer is from the shadow. People all over North America will see the eclipse that is coming as a partial eclipse. It will only be total for those who are in the 70-mile-wide path of the shadow that will travel from Oregon to South Carolina.