Everything comes to a celestial head on August 21st, 2017, as the Sun and Moon meet in the afternoon sky over the United States in a Total Solar Eclipse.
Of the many worthy periodic celestial events, casual observers and professional astronomers are unanimous that the brief minutes of solar totality surpasses everything else in terms of spectacle and scientific usefulness. Only at totality can prominences be seen leaping like geysers of pink nuclear flame from the solar limb. Only then do the brighter stars emerge, while the Sun’s ultra-hot corona or outer atmosphere splays far across the sky, its pattern of plasma channeled along visually distinctive magnetic field lines. The very shape of the solar corona appears different and distinctive for each eclipse, and largely depends on the stage of its sunspot cycle.
August’s eclipse marks a very special occurence of this celestial phenomenon, as the eclipse traces a path from one end of the United States to the other, visible over a massive amount of land, and by a greater population than usual.
Though total solar eclipses occur once every 18 months or so, they are only visible from very specific, and sometimes very remote, locations. While that has been the case in the past, this year’s eclipse will be making landfall on one of the most heavily populated places on Earth.
Solar eclipses occur when the Moon’s orbit passes directly between the Earth and the Sun, obscuring part or all of the solar disk. There are several types of solar eclipses, including annular and partial eclipses (when the Moon only obscures a portion of the Sun), and the incredible sight of a Total Solar Eclipse.
So why are there different types of eclipses? The type of eclipse depends on a number of factors having to do with the distance of the Earth from the Sun, and the distance of the Moon from the Earth. Since the orbit of both the Earth around the Sun and the Moon around the Earth are elliptical, the distances between the three bodies changes. When those orbits don’t match up perfectly, you end up with a partial or annular eclipse. But when they match up perfectly — when the Sun and Moon appear the same size in the sky — that’s when the magic happens, if only for a brief few moments.
Solar eclipses are a natural phenomenon, but ancient cultures sometimes regarded them as supernatural occurrence or bad omen. In ancient Greece, the historian Herodotus wrote that an eclipse was predicted during a battle between the Medes and Lydians. When that eclipse occurred, both sides immediately put down their weapons and declared peace.
Because solar eclipses are so easy to predict (and to trace back to a precise date and time), and because they are brilliant events likely to be recorded in the history books, historians have actually used records of previous eclipses to determine exact dates of historical events. Some have even attempted to determine whether an eclipse would account for the darkening of the skies that, according to the Bible, occurred at the crucifixion of Jesus, but so far they haven’t been able to find any conclusive results.
Slooh has been covering eclipses for years, traveling across the globe to bring viewers up close and personal first-hand accounts, and unique views of these incredible celestial events. We’ll be doing that once again, though we’ll have a much shorter distance to travel this year. Previous eclipses have sent Slooh’s expedition teams to Kenya, the Faroe Islands, and Indonesia.
“But never have I beheld any spectacle which so plainly manifested the majesty of the Creator, or so forcibly taught the lesson of humility to man as a total eclipse of the sun.” James Fenimore Cooper