There Is No Experience Like a Total Solar Eclipse

There Is No Experience Like a Total Solar Eclipse

On Monday, April 8, 2024, millions will see a rare occurrence as a total solar eclipse travels across North America. Those living outside the totality path will see a partial eclipse, but, as we said yesterday, it won’t be the same. There is no experience like a total solar eclipse.

April 8 will bring in the “new moon” when the Sun, Moon, and Earth line up, with the Moon in the center. The Moon will block light from the Sun, creating a shadow that will travel across the Earth’s surface. The shadow will be about 9,000 miles long, 115 miles wide, and traveling at a speed exceeding 1500 miles per hour. If you are in the total shadow (the umbra), you will experience the total eclipse. Most of the United States will be under the outer shadow (the penumbra), and people living there will experience a partial eclipse.

I said there is no experience like a total solar eclipse. Eclipse watchers outside the path of totality will see a portion of the Sun obstructed by the Moon, with less obstruction farther from totality. People may also see a reduction in the light level, which is more significant near the totality path. Near the path, they may also notice a slight decrease in temperature. Let’s compare that with the experience of totality.

We emphasize that you must never look directly at the Sun without using approved solar eclipse glasses. If you are outside of totality, you must always use them when viewing the eclipse. However, during the brief minutes of totality, when the Moon completely obscures the Sun, you can take them off. In fact, you should take them off to see the Sun’s beautiful corona. That corona is one of the reasons why there is no experience like a total solar eclipse.

During totality, the darkness will be like deep twilight with a noticeable drop in temperature. You may hear night-time sounds as birds and other animals take on twilight behavior. Since the Sun is currently in a very active stage, you may see pinkish solar flares along with the corona. Some of the brighter stars or planets may become visible.

If you are on the edge of the shadow or as the Moon starts to move away from totality, the light you see may be affected by the mountains and valleys on the Moon. The effect is called Baily’s beads, as beads of light become visible between the Moon’s geological features. At the moment the Moon begins to move away from total coverage of the Sun, you may see an effect called the “diamond ring” as the Moon’s mountain features allow a larger bead of light to emerge. I took the above picture of the diamond ring during the 2017 eclipse.

I want to emphasize that there is no experience like a total solar eclipse. Actor William Shatner, Captain Kirk of the original Star Trek series, is scheduled to appear in the Hoosier Cosmic Celebration at Indiana University in Bloomington on eclipse day. He said, “To me, the magic of the eclipse, the extraordinary events it all took in the heavenly bodies to cause this eclipse, should make us ponder the mystery of existence, of our own existence, of the existence of everything else…”

I agree with Shatner’s words, but I would go further. The eclipse should cause us to ponder the existence of God, who created the heavenly bodies and put them in motion. It should also cause us to ponder the purpose of our own existence and our relationship to the Creator.

— Roland Earnst © 2024

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