A total solar eclipse will bisect the USA today for the first time in 99 years.
It could be the most viewed total solar eclipse in history. Millions will experience it for the first time, but another one will cross America in another direction seven years later on 8th April 2024.
The midday Moon, usually hidden from view, will pass in front of the Sun and totally block it out. It begins to partially eclipse the Sun at Lincoln Beach on the west coast of Oregon about 9:04 a.m. and reaches totality about 10:15 a.m. local PDT time (British Summer Time is eight hours later 6:15 p.m.). The path of totality is a swathe of land about 70 miles wide where the umbra (the Moon’s shadow) travels 2500 miles across the USA from the west coast to the east coast at South Carolina.
On the same day the UK’s world-famous bell Big Ben in London began its four-year silence for refurbishments to its clock tower, as if to signal the beginning of this once-in-a-century coast to coast solar totality. Totality moves offshore from the USA about 2:49 p.m. with the last remnants of the partial eclipse finishing about 4:10 p.m. local EDT time (BST is five hours later than the American east coast). During this time, millions will be over the Moon about being under the Moon in this unique situation. Totality leaves the American coast about 7:49 p.m. BST, about the same time as the partial eclipse begins to be seen from the UK for about 40 minutes, clouds permitting. NASA will cover the event live here and the exact details at any location can be determined by clicking on this interactive map.
In any given place, this celestial event usually lasts less than 2½ minutes. It occurs somewhere on Earth at least twice every year and occasionally up to five times in a year, the last occasion being 1935. In theory a total solar eclipse can occur anywhere on Earth and they have taken place in the Arctic and Antartica, and at the north and south poles. As more than 70% of the globe is ocean few people have witnessed a total solar eclipse before this one.
The Earth rotates from west to east and so the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west, as do the Moon, the other planets and the whole night sky – all because of the Earth’s rotation. However, the Moon goes round the Earth in the same direction as the Earth’s spin and it travels faster, at about 61 km/min compared to the Earth’s spin of 28 km/min at the Equator, so when the Moon passes in front of the Sun, the Moon’s pinpoint shadow is cast on the ground in the west of America and will travel from west to east across the USA. The shadow or ‘umbra’ will race across America at over 1000 mph, taking only about 100 minutes to cross 14 states. The Moon’s shadow will turn day into night for about 2½ minutes at any given point along the path of totality, with the maximum duration being 2 minutes 40.2 seconds, where the pinpoint shadow hits the surface of the Earth head-on instead of at an angle and so the shadow is moving at its slowest speed and therefore lasts longest.
At totality the temperature drops a significant amount and the shadow of the Moon comes over the landscape travelling at 1,100 miles per hour at the Equator, faster than many jet planes, but up to 5,000 miles per hour near the poles. The darkness approaches in complete silence, so quickly and suddenly that those who have witnessed this sudden totality always refer to the experience as exhilarating. Just before and just after totality only a thin sliver of the Sun’s light remains shining; not only does this highlight the edge of the Moon and the Sun shining through the valleys on the Moon to give the effect known as Baily’s beads and the diamond ring effect when looking up at the Moon, but looking downwards the thin ray of sunlight makes all the shadows on the Earth even sharper than normal. A combination of all these and other effects makes the experience of totality altogether unique and memorable.
Mankanda, Illinois, is the point of greatest duration and the largest nearby town is Carbondale, Illinois. These places are at the crossroads of another coast to coast total solar eclipse crossing America to complete an X-pattern seven years later on 8th April 2024, so they are being billed as the Solar Eclipse Crossroads of America. Hopefully by then Big Ben and his companion bells will have resumed their auditory duties in 2021.
However, the point of greatest eclipse will be about 160km away at Cerulean, Kentucky. The longest eclipse that has been calculated thus far is the eclipse expected to take place on 16th July 2186 with a maximum duration of 7 minutes 4 seconds over northern Guyana, and the longest for thousands years.
Solar eclipses have been observed from ancient times and are a valuable resource for dating historical events precisely, from which other dates may be deduced. In the Bible God says: ‘I will cause the Sun to disappear at noon, and I will darken the land in the clear light of day’ Amos 8:9. Possibly this describes the solar eclipse on 15/6/763 BC. Another total eclipse that occurred on 28/5/585 BC was so dramatic and unexpected that it ended a five-year war between the Lydians and the Medes. The historian Herodotus notes that ‘just as the battle was growing warm, day was suddenly changed into night’. Fighting stopped immediately, a peace treaty was signed, and a marriage between the two royal families sealed the deal. Even in this early age, the Greek astronomer and engineer Thales of Miletus is reputed to have correctly predicted the solar eclipse for the first time in recorded history. Thales lived before Pythagoras and Euclid and derived his early mathematical and geometrical knowledge from the Egyptians, which he further developed. Miletus is mentioned twice in the Bible in Act 20:15 and 2Tim 4:20.
The ratio of the distance from the Earth to the Moon and the Earth to the Sun is 1:400, which is also the ratio of the Moon’s diameter to the Sun’s diameter. This means that they look the same size in the sky and so the Moon can eclipse the Sun exactly. Without these ratios, we would not experience solar eclipses as we do, showing the corona around the Sun and the valleys on the edge of the Moon through which the Sun shines known as Baily’s beads, nor annular eclipses. The corona is the Sun’s atmosphere and it is millions of degrees hotter than the surface of the Sun itself! The 1919 solar eclipse gave scientists the opportunity to confirm Einstein’s theory of relativity.
Each letter of the Hebrew alphabet is given a number from 1 to 10, then 20, 30 to 100, then 200, 300 and 400 for the 22nd and last letter. So the first and last numerical glyphs (compare Egyptian hieroglyphics) in the Hebrew alphabet are 1 and 400. The first and last letters of the Greek alphabet are alpha and omega, sometimes known as ‘Christ’s signature’ Rev 1:8,11, Rev 21:6 and Rev 22:13.
The circumference of the Moon is 10,921km and of the Earth is 40,075km; when multiplied together and divided by 100, the result is 4,376,591km, comparable to the circumference of the Sun – 4,379,000km.
The rocks from the Earth and Moon are similar, with a much closer relationship than that of any other planetary body studied in our Solar System.
Without night time, we would not be able to see the stars. We would not be able to observe the Universe and we would know very little about it.
This should remind us that ‘the heavens declare the glory of God, and the night sky shows His handywork’ Psalm 19:1.
The cosmos is God’s fireworks display for our admiration of His glory. It is also His laboratory given to man so that scientists on Earth can view experiments that they could never perform on Earth. God has made all the experiments and we have only to look at the results.