Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Solar Eclipse

moon es_by_kirafoxx-d4rvj9n.jpgThe Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System.  It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields.  The energy of sunlight supports almost all life on Earth by photosynthesis and drives Earth's climate and weather.  The enormous effect of the Sun on the Earth has been recognized since prehistoric times, and the Sun has been regarded by some cultures as a Deity.  An accurate scientific understanding of the Sun developed slowly, and as recently as the 19th century prominent scientists had little knowledge of the Sun's physical composition and source of energy.  This understanding is still developing; there are a number of present-day anomalies in the Sun's behavior that remain unexplained.


As seen from the Earth, a solar eclipse is a type of eclipse that occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth, and the Moon fully or partially blocks (occults) the Sun.  This can happen only at new moon, when the Sun and the Moon are in conjunction as seen from Earth in an alignment referred to as syzygy.  In a total eclipse, the disk of the Sun is fully obscured by the Moon.  In partial and annular eclipses only part of the Sun is obscured.

04_Solar%20Eclipse.pngSince looking directly at the Sun can lead to permanent eye damage or blindness, special eye protection or indirect viewing techniques are used when viewing a solar eclipse.  It is technically safe to view only the total phase of a total solar eclipse with the unaided eye and without protection, however this is a dangerous practice as most people are not trained to recognize the phases of an eclipse which can span over two hours while the total phase can only last up to 7.5 minutes for any one location.

It's easy to imagine how our earliest ancestors must have reacted to the sudden disappearance of the sun, and over time the phenomenon has been seen as both fascinating and terrifying, a signal of the displeasure of the Gods, or an omen of bad things to come.  

Historical eclipses are a very valuable resource for historians, in that they allow a few historical events to be dated precisely, from which other dates and ancient calendars may be deduced.  A solar eclipse of June 15, 763 BC mentioned in an Assyrian text is important for the Chronology of the Ancient Orient.  The Emperor Zhong Kang supposedly beheaded two astronomers, Hsi and Ho, who failed to predict an eclipse 4,000 years ago.  Perhaps the earliest still-unproven claim is that of archaeologist Masse, who putatively links an eclipse that occurred on May 10, 2807 BC with a possible meteor impact in the Indian Ocean on the basis of several ancient flood myths that mention a total solar eclipse.

Eclipses have been interpreted as omens or portents.  The ancient Greek historian Herodotus wrote that Thales of Miletus predicted an eclipse that occurred during a war between the Medians and the Lydians.  Both sides put down their weapons and declared peace as a result of the eclipse.

Many cultures explain eclipses, both solar and lunar, as a time when demons or animals consume the sun or the moon.  The Vikings saw a pair of sky wolves chasing the sun or the moon.  When one of the wolves caught either of the shining orbs, an eclipse would result.  In Vietnam, a frog or a toad eats the moon or the sun.  While people of the Kwakiutl tribe on the western coast of Canada believe that the mouth of heaven consumes the sun or the moon during an eclipse.

In order to combat this devouring, people in many cultures made noise in order to scare the demon or animal away.  People banged pots and pans or played on drums to get whatever was swallowing the sun or the moon to go away.

Other myths tell of deception and theft to explain the sun's disappearance during an eclipse.  Korean eclipse mythology involves fire dogs that try to steal the sun or the moon.  On orders from a King, the mythical canines try their best to capture the fiery sun or the ice-cold moon.  They always fail, but whenever they bite either orb, an eclipse results.


On October 23, 2014 a Partial Solar Eclipse will occur.  Continents seeing at least a partial eclipse include East Asia, much of North America, Pacific and Atlantic.  The center of the Moon's shadow will miss the earth, passing above the north pole, but a partial eclipse will be visible at sunrise in far eastern Russia, and before sunset across most of North America.

UTC Time
First location to see partial eclipse begin
Oct 23 at 7:38 PM
Maximum Eclipse
Oct 23 at 9:45 PM
Last location to see partial Eclipse end
Oct 23 at 11:52 PM


It's an amazing experience, even though we now know it's just the moon moving in front of the sun.  They're a chance to see the universe working.


Skoll the wolf who shall scare the Moon
Till he flies to the Wood-of-Woe:
Hati the wolf, Hridvitnir's kin,
Who shall pursue the Sun.
              ~ Grimnismal, The Elder Edda





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