Reality Of Shadows
By: Jim Virkler
In our final post prior to the Great American total solar Eclipse, we examine additional science related to the physical eclipse. As we anticipate this experience with excitement, we ask if there is a deeper meaning to the upcoming events in our sky. In so doing we may describe metaphysical phenomena. Philosophy is the nature of knowledge, reality, and existence according to many definitions. Metaphysics is considered an important branch of philosophy. When we observe total lunar or solar eclipses, we experience deep emotions. Most readers have experienced total lunar eclipses. It is likely that only a few of our readers have ever been in the path of totality during a total solar eclipse. Dr. Kate Russo, eclipse consultant involved in community planning for previous total solar eclipses during the last few years says such an event is “…eerie, awe-inspiring, unsettling, beautiful, and often emotionally overwhelming. Most people find it hard to describe the totality experience.”
Awareness of scientific, metaphysical, and theological realities provide a robust complement of eclipse day experiences on August 21, 2017. The relatively tiny total shadow of the moon sweeping across the country envelops observers in virtual complete darkness for over two minutes in the middle of the day. We wonder how ancient Earth dwellers coped with eclipse experiences in pre-scientific days. Metaphysical speculation may have troubled them. Most ancient societies did not have a meaningful theological anchor.
Come with us as we review “astronomy geometry:”
We know that the Moon’s total shadow of complete darkness shrinks from 2159 miles wide to just over 70 miles wide during this particular eclipse as it travels to Earth from its 229,807 mile distance. Our large Sun produces a very small Moon shadow shaped like a cone. Sun diameter is 400 times the Moon’s diameter. If the Moon were only a few thousand miles more distant from Earth, our lunar companion’s shadow would pinch off completely before striking our planet. In some solar eclipses this occurs because the Moon revolves around Earth at variable distances, sometimes closer, sometimes farther away. Earth dwellers would experience an annular eclipse—a moon appearing slightly smaller than the apparent sun—permitting a ring of sunlight to fall on us. Total darkness would not occur. This is an interesting astronomical phenomenon, but eclipse observers hope for total darkness instead.
The total shadow is known as the umbra. Social media have made abundantly clear how small the 2017 eclipse umbra actually is when it reaches our planet. The shadow is produced by a 2000 mile wide Moon, but specific straight-line sun rays passing from the Sun’s perimeter past the Moon’s perimeter project a diminishing, converging shadow on Earth only 70 miles wide during our Great American eclipse! Other straight line sun rays passing by the moon’s perimeter diverge as they travel into space. This area is called the penumbra, a partial shadow where sunlight intensity is somewhat dimmed because the sun is partially obscured. All 50 states in the US will experience different degrees of a partial solar eclipse. Once again, we have an interesting astronomical phenomenon, but not nearly as spectacular as totality. Observers may fantacize that the Sun is missing a “cookie bite” while looking through their special eclipse-viewing glasses.
Our viewing experiences extend our awareness beyond the understanding of physical phenomena. Is there a deeper meaning underlying the marvelous precision and visible glory of our Solar System bodies? In pre-biblical days residents were superstitious and prone to the mystical. Some of our contemporaries retain their superstitions. Modern adherents of astrology rely on daily horoscopes and inordinately focus on heavenly bodies, thinking their positions and movements influence human affairs or future events. In 2015 we wrote of the “Supermoon Eclipse” which garnered its share of attention and speculation:
Interesting object lessons could be offered relating to the Great American total solar Eclipse. The Sun’s beautiful corona—an “aura of plasma” or a “jacket of gases” is visible only when intense illumination from the Sun is temporarily shielded. Likewise, the “diamond ring effect” is visible only at this time. In a 1919 eclipse, observations were made relating to the reality of Einstein’s famous theory of general relativity which demonstrated that massive objects like the Sun cause a distortion in space/time. One object lesson relates to the fact that some human knowledge could be undiscoverable unless we observe and perform our research in a novel and imaginative way.
The Great American Eclipse of 2017 demonstrates the reality of God-ordained natural laws operating in our everyday environment. Meteorological phenomena may not be controlled or predicted, including the hoped-for clear skies for all observers on the day of the eclipse. But the glory of the eclipse will still occur above the clouds!
Some of the commentary in this post relates to mysterious metaphysical realities. In terms of theological realities, we quote once more the majesty of Psalm 19:1. The King James Version was the parental preference in my early childhood home. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalm 19:1 KJV).
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Jim Virkler, a retired New Jersey public school science educator, now devotes his time investigating the harmony of scientific discoveries and Christian faith. He and his wife, Eleanor, now reside in the mid-west near their children and grandchildren.