From The EastWing, Talking ‘Bout The Eclipse

Greeting to all and welcome new friends to the EastWing.


With all the hype during the last couple weeks  about the upcoming eclipse on August 21st  guess I’d better say a few words about that. Being a long time stargazer, I’m not too excited about an eclipse one way or the other.  It’s not the most exciting thing in the sky for me to look at in terms of celestial curiosity.  I see shadows crossing a given point all the time, year after year the same shadow crossing the same point every day, every time. To me the eclipse is about as exciting as watching corn grow. I’ve seen ‘em both and it’s a tie. Now hearing corn grow is a different story, something we need to talk about some day.


Stone Hinge is a good example of the sun being at a given point on a precise moment in time. Also the Egyptian Pyramids are lined in such a way to detect the sun at a precise moment in time. In the Mayan world the sun played a major part of their religion. They too made sure they had devices to ensure the sun came to visit on a regular basis. The world is full of things designed to capture the sunshine or the shadow. An eclipse is nothing more than geometry in motion.


Looking  at the history of eclipses and how people have reacted is truly amazing. Everything from the Dog Star (Sirius) eating the sun, to the end of the world, to the lights going out in Georgia have been blamed on a solar eclipse.


Simply stated, an eclipse  is what happens when the moon slips between the Earth and the sun, blocking out the light from our sun by casting a long shadow onto the Earth. This happens when the orbits of the Earth and moon align with the sun. Depending on your location and where the shadow falls, the moon can block the sun entirely, or just take a partial bite out of the sun’s bright disk.


So how does the relatively tiny moon block out the big sun?  it’s truly a cosmic quirk of geometry.

Many times the sun and the moon appear to be the same size in the sky. The reason is the sun 400 times larger than the moon. The  sun is also 400 times farther away, so when looking at the two they appear to be about the same size.


Even though sun is 400 times larger  than the moon, but our sun is so far away from Earth that the much closer moon can cover it up when seen from our earth-bound perspective. You can replicate this by setting a round object, like a basketball on a post at a distance. Hold up a quarter at arm’s length and step backwards until the coin appears to hide the ball.


Knowing the speed of travel of the Earth, moon and sun and their size orbits, it’s just a matter of calculations to determine the precise time of an eclipse. The line across the Earth where the moon casts a solid shadow, completely blocking the sun, is known as the path of totality. For the Monday  eclipse, that path will cross the continental US from Oregon on the West Coast to South Carolina on the East Coast. The day will turn to twilight for up to two minutes and 40 seconds in these places. If you’re outside this path, you will see a partial eclipse.


Here at the EastWing we’ll not  have a total eclipse. Our partial eclipse will start at 11:56AM and 1:22PM will be the maximum position of the moon covering the sun. 2:45PM will end the eclipse here at the EastWing. Total start to finish time is 2 hr 45 minutes.


One of the more interesting I’ve been asked about the eclipse is how come the eclipse starts on the west coast and travels east? Why doesn’t the eclipse go the same way as the moon around the Earth? You better hold on to your hat for this answer, ‘cause you’re probably gonna be surprised.


The  moon does travel around the Earth from the west to the east!


See there I told you’d be surprised. It has to do with the way the moon travels around the Earth in a counter clockwise path while at the same time the Earth is traveling around the sun in a counter clockwise path. The Earth spins on its own axes in 24 hours while the moon takes 27+ days to make one full orbit around the Earth. All the while the Earth is taking 365 days to make one full orbit around the sun.


So with all this orbiting  going on at different  speeds and different size orbits, it’s kinda like if you’re riding a bus and  see people walking in the same direction, they will almost appear to be walking backwards as you approach them, while in reality all are going in the same direction.


Each night here on Earth we’re catching up with the moon, passing it by, and catching up again the next night. Even thought the moon is really circling the Earth form west to east, it appears to us it’s east to west.


The main thing to remember is you want to look directly at the sun during an eclipse is looking at the sun too long will make you go blind. Yep, I’m not joking, never, never stare directly into the sun. The sunlight it too strong for the human eye to absorb. Much like a light bulb  designed for 120w, if you put 440w into the bulb it will blowup. Don’t look at the sun, ever.


A much better way to watch the eclipse without going blind is watching TV. NASA has cooperated with a group to broadcast live video of the eclipse from 80,000 ft about the planet. These live shots of the eclipse will follow the full course of the event as it travels across the country. The TV broadcasts are expected to last over two hours. I’m  still trying to figure out why one would want to watch the same thing over and over for two hours.


To me it’s kinda like the ole boy who walked into the blacksmith shop and picked up a horseshoe laying the an anvil to cool after coming from the forge. He immediately dropped it. The blacksmith said “Get burnt?” Ole boy said “Nope just don’t take long to look at a horseshoe” And so goes the eclipse.


From The EastWing, Talking ‘Bout The Eclipse


I Wish You Well,