Re-wind of Total Solar Eclipse

In August 2017 I was privileged to fulfill a life-long bucket list goal of observing a total solar eclipse. The rare event took place a full day’s drive from our home in far Northwest Illinois. The exact date and time of the rare astronomical event in Carbondale, IL had been publicized for several years. We had faith that the weather would cooperate to provide us with ideal conditions on the day of the eclipse. Plans were made to overnight in Springfield IL, halfway between our home and the eclipse venue. Weather in Carbondale was ideal on August 21, 2017.

A total solar eclipse is an event few Earth residents ever witness. Successful observation depends on one’s location in the moon’s umbra. Since the Sun is much larger than the moon, straight line sun rays pass the edge of the lunar body and converge on a very small area on our planet. Observers in a high-altitude airplane would observe a small circular shadow moving across the surface of the earth. Its movement across Earth’s surface is linked to movements of a rotating and revolving  Earth and a revolving moon. Depending on the exact configuration of the Sun, Moon, and Earth on the day of a total solar eclipse, the shadow races across Earth’s surface at 1100 mph or more. Residents outside the umbra see a partial solar eclipse.

On 4/8/2024 North America will be treated to another outstanding total solar eclipse. The narrow path of totality will travel southwest to northeast across the Eastern US from Mexico to Canada. The 2017 event traced a generally west to east swath across the lower 48 US states. The path of totality was 71 miles wide in 2017 but projected to be 122 miles wide in 2024. The two paths of totality cross in the vicinity of Carbondale IL. Residents in this small area will be able to view totality twice in less than seven years. One writer calculated there is less than one chance in 40,000 that any one location could view totality twice in such a short time interval. The timeline for viewing a total solar eclipse is considerably less. On average, the figure is about 375 years. A partial solar eclipse is not particularly rare. Partial solar eclipses can be viewed thousands of miles away from the path of totality. These solar eclipses are more common but far less spectacular than a total solar eclipse.    

Solar and lunar eclipses occur only when the Sun, Earth, and Moon are in line. Solar eclipses occur only at new moon phase; lunar eclipses occur only at full moon. Total lunar eclipses are not especially rare because half of earth residents can view a lunar eclipse when the moon passes into the relatively huge shadow of the earth. The moon is totally eclipsed for up to two hours.

In contrast, a total solar eclipse is visible to observers on Earth for only a few seconds to seven minutes. The 2017 total solar eclipse observed by your blog author lasted two minutes and 37 seconds. The total solar eclipse of 2024 will supply four minutes and eight seconds of totality in Carbondale IL. Thousands of people will converge on that city on April 8 as will many millions of people in cities to the northeast where totality occurs. The 122-mile-wide shadow does not linger over one location very long as it races over earth’s surface at 1100 mph.

Following is a link to our blog post of 8/23/2017 where we recounted our total eclipse experience in Carbondale, IL. The post describes many details of our experience of awe and worship:

Many Scripture verses call attention to signs in the Moon, Earth, and Sun—generally, a physical darkening. There have been many solar and lunar eclipses since these words of Scripture were penned. Numerically, there have been well over 2000 of each. Most eclipses are unusual and spectacular. But a quotation from GotQuestions is appropriate: “Trying to calculate the timing of end-times events based on astronomical phenomena is not something the Bible calls us to do.” See Matthew 24, especially culminating with verse 36: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” 

We prefer to highlight the “wonderful repeating clockwork of the God-authored Solar System,” a statement we infer from many articles on astronomy. As we research many statistics on dates, times, and locations of past and future eclipse events, we are overwhelmed by the mathematical expertise of many contemporary astronomers and their ability to communicate knowledge to ordinary laypeople.    

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