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Monday, August 21, 2017

The Great American Eclipse... or is it?

The Google doodle today shows a couple of happy aliens heading our moon back and forth between them (see, soccer is universally popular!). I like the doodle, but am wondering if the number of eyes is indicative of the fact that aliens (if they exist) don't see like we do...

Google Doodle - 21 August, 2017

I’ve been thinking about today’s eclipse for some time. On our neighborhood's Nextdoor feed, there is a constant stream of inquiries regarding where to purchase eclipse glasses. How many millions of eyes will (I hope safely) view this event? Let's pray the eyes that monitor our missile defense systems are not among them. You never know what Kim Jong-un will decide to do if he thinks we're all distracted.

Solar Eclipse (artist's rendering)

As always, media is presenting this event as a (ubiquitous) Once in a Lifetime occurrence. If everything that is touted as once in a lifetime actually happened only once in a lifetime, our lives would be pretty boring from here on out. The fact is, America’s last total solar eclipse happened 38 years ago. The next one will occur only seven years from now. I think the big deal with this particular eclipse is that it will be visible in areas spanning between the west coast and the east coast. In fact, the last time we had one that was visible across America like this was in 1918. So, yes, this particular brand of eclipse could possibly be considered once in a lifetime. However, if you can drive (or someone can drive you), there is no reason why you can't witness multiple total solar eclipses in your lifetime.

Another media-hyped aspect is the name. They're calling it, “The Great American Eclipse” almost like we invented the darn thing. Americans love big, important sounding names. That’s why we have the Super Bowl and the World Series. Neither involve any teams from outside North America. Hardly a world event.

Eclipses, to get back on the subject, are actually pretty regular things. The total solar eclipse that America will observe today is part of Saros series 145 and is the 22nd in a series of 77 eclipses. The series kicked off with a partial solar eclipse on January 4, 1639 and will finish with another partial on April 17, 3009. We can derive that eclipses are actually somewhat commonplace, along with a plethora of other eclipse knowledge, from a simple Internet search (my favorite is Destin Sandlin’s eclipse video on his Smarter Every Day YouTube channel).

Ancient Eclipse (National Geographic)

I suspect in ancient times, eclipses were viewed with a little more shock and awe. The image above is a portrayal of the Inca reacting to a lunar eclipse - which they believed showed a jaguar attacking the moon.

These days, we have science to rely on. The paths of major celestial bodies are tracked and recorded, which is how we know that there is a total solar eclipse today. If it weren't for astronomers et al, would we be beating our dogs and howling to ward off whatever evil the solar eclipse portended?

The Big Bang (Wikipedia)

In the Big Bang Theory, we are told that the universe expanded from a very high density and high temperature state. In other words, there was a huge explosion and matter accelerated outward to form the cosmos as we know it today. More recently, measurements of the redshifts of supernovae indicate that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, an observation attributed to dark energy's existence.

If objects are still moving around out there (and accelerating), I suppose it's a good idea to keep an eye on them.

I've found it fascinating in recent years to consider how slim the margins are for our existence. If the Big Bang is true, then we are indeed fortunate to be alive at all. The random placement of stars and planets over billions of years fortuitously allowed for life on our planet. The sun is just the right distance from the earth so that it doesn't get too hot or too cold. The moon is just the right distance from the earth so that the gravitational effects don't cause earth-altering phenomena.

Maybe this is the origin of the idiom thank your lucky stars.

It seems to me that, by any definition of luck, we are truly fortunate to be alive considering all the factors involved in the creation of the universe in general and our solar system in particular.

Or, perhaps, the creation of the universe and all that is in it was not a chance occurrence. King David wrote in Psalm 19, "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their utterances to the end of the world."

In today's eclipse, is God showing us that despite the infinity of space and time, He alone can arrange for these alignments of the objects Genesis reveals He created?

The Three Wise Men (Bible)

In Matthew 2, an extraordinary celestial event guided the magi (astronomers?) to the location of Jesus' birth.

I could go on...

My thought today is merely to encourage you to think about the eclipse, not as just some entertaining thing, but as a significant event. Is it just one of many that have occurred and will occur throughout history. Is it the natural alignment of objects in our solar system based on the positions they hold relative to the Big Bang?

Or is it something more?

What do you think?


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