Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Eclipse "Everest" Experience

What is the “Everest” event to which we refer? My wife and I experienced the “Great American (total solar) Eclipse of August 21, 2017 at Marion, Illinois. The town was a few miles from Carbondale which has achieved notoriety as the Great American Eclipse capitol. The low 90s summer day dawned essentially cloud free with only occasional passing cumulus and cirrus clouds. Natural air movements swept away the few clouds threatening our view of totality in plenty of time. Our eclipse viewing area was Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, an ideally serene venue. A company of perhaps 200 folks from several states, primarily Illinois, formed the compatible and friendly gathering in the area of the Refuge we claimed as our viewing area. Untold thousands of visitors had descended on this town as well as many hundreds of towns across the United States in the 70-mile strip of totality.

We add our personal impressions of the most observed, most studied, most photographed, and most viewed solar eclipse of all time. For many years we have been amazed at precision predictions concerning these events—when they occur, where they occur, how long they persist, and how earth dwellers are specifically impacted. Basic answers for these questions have been known for hundreds of years. In more recent years mathematicians have refined their knowledge to an astonishing  degree of accuracy. Knowledge of physical processes impart a picture of an incredibly ordered world. Eclipse events produce reverential awe of cosmic orderliness.

Precisely at 11:52 A.M., fulfilling the long-standing prediction, our viewing devices, safety glasses and binoculars, revealed the moon’s initial contact with the sun. Safety glasses were effective, displaying the sun as an orange orb. In addition, binoculars pointed at the sun with eyepieces directed upon a nearby sheet of light paper produced a large, sharp solar image. (We never looked through the binoculars. This is merely a method of image projection.) Binoculars were more effective than the often recommended  pinhole “cameras.” The next hour and twenty-eight minutes was an experience of patient anticipation. We sent periodic iPhone pictures of the progress of the eclipse to our children and other relatives. The Moon’s slow progress across the Sun’s face portrayed its actual revolution around Planet Earth.

Some eclipse events exceeded our expectations; only a few did not match the descriptions provided by previous total eclipse observers. However, all events were electric with excitement and provided reverent wonder. We viewed the eclipse experience as an unparalleled divine gift. No human words adequately capture our profound and powerful personal emotions. 

As totality approached at 1:20 P.M., we prepared by getting ready to remove our safety glasses. At a precise instant, the Moon became a darkened sphere. At virtually the same moment the famous diamond ring effect flashed its dazzling glory for a few moments. This bright diamond ring visual experience exceeded anything I had expected. Immediately the corona appeared—larger and brighter than I had imagined. For over two minutes a dark Moon was surrounded by an unexpectedly brilliant corona. The two minute totality seemed to persist for a nearly timeless interval. I was not even tempted to count off the seconds!

The temperature had been around 90ºF. The temperature dropped slightly and the park became essentially silent as totality approached. At the sudden onset of totality and the flash of the diamond ring, the assemblage cheered, shouted, and applauded. We had been led to believe that the sky would rival the darkness of a moonless night. This expectation was not fulfilled, but not to my disappointment. There were too many other phenomena to enjoy. Perhaps the brighter than expected corona and a subdued glow from the horizon provided the unanticipated twilight-similar light. Bright Venus was clearly visible to the west of the Sun. I did not see any other planets or stars, perhaps a function of not observing intently enough.

At the conclusion of totality, the diamond ring flashed again. We observed one or two tiny spots of light at the edge of the Moon. These are called Baily’s Beads, formed by light passing through irregularities on the Moon surface. The diamond ring is also caused by a momentary passage of sunlight through these surface irregularities. Almost immediately a sliver of sunlight reappeared. The countryside was soon bathed in light again, subdued but slowly brightening. It is interesting that even a tiny sliver of sun surface provides so much light. 

Most eclipse observers departed soon after totality concluded. It is likely that tens of thousands of eclipse enthusiasts had the identical idea at the same time: “Let’s get a head start and begin our trip home.” For many, the trip home was many hundreds of miles. Our trip from Marion, IL to extreme northwest Illinois should have consumed just over six hours. The journey actually took ten hours. But we were fortunate because many eclipse lovers were delayed much longer. Monumental traffic delays generated by people returning home were rampant all across our great land. On the positive side we were able to enjoy miles of lush corn and soybean fields and discover an intricate network of country roads. Had we not followed the GPS voice on our iPhone instructing us on many occasions that, “You can save 27 minutes (for example) by taking this alternate route…” our trip may have extended until daylight the following day.

Pantheism is an errant belief that the universe itself is a manifestation of God. In brief, pantheists believe “Nature is God.” In contrast, we believe nature displays God’s glory in manifold ways. The 2017 total solar eclipse gave glory to the God of Creation. Of all astronomical wonders, this event is superlative. The Creator is author of the order and beauty he permits man to recognize and enjoy. For this moment at the mountaintop we give glory and praise to God. We worship Him!       





Friday, August 18, 2017

Reality Of Shadows

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).    





Monday, August 14, 2017

Accidental Moon?

We live at the exact moment in Earth’s extensive history when perfect solar eclipses, such as the event of August 21, 2017, are possible. These eclipses occur because the apparent disc of the Moon and the apparent disc of the Sun are virtually identical. Much earlier or much later in geologic history the moon would be either too close or too distant from earth because the Moon’s orbit is very slowly spiraling away from Earth. Contemporary eclipse events have enabled humanity to make many important physical discoveries concerning our Solar System, the universe, and the laws of physics. Scientists are reminded of this fact each time a total solar eclipse occurs. Understandably, laypeople bask primarily in the splendor of the event.

Early models of Moon formation failed to explain its existence. Decades ago I proposed models of moon formation to my students without much confidence that any model was true. The models ranged from highly unlikely to impossible. Astrophysicist Hugh Ross has commented, concerning the proposals of early theorists, “In their frustration some researchers went so far as to comment that the Moon must be some kind of illusion—or, perhaps, a miracle.”

Ross’s previously cited volume Improbable Planet uses the effective imagery of a home building project in which the owner and builder both insure that all the conditions for building a new home meet all the “just right” criteria. Home building is not an opportunity to pray for a sequence of “lucky accidents.” We repeat a quote from Ross concerning how “…the Moon’s formation nevertheless represents an intricately layered sequence of coincidences that happened to prepare Earth for life—advanced life, especially.” We quote the nine points made in Ross’s “brief list of what the (Giant Impactor) collision accomplished:”

“1. The collision replaced Earth’s thick atmosphere, providing in its place an atmosphere with optimal (for life) chemical composition, appropriate (for life) heat-trapping capacity, appropriate transparency for efficient photosynthesis, and precise air pressure for making possible the eventual operation of lungs.

“2. Earth’s mass and density were augmented, enabling Earth to retain (via its gravity) a large, but not too large, quantity of water vapor for billions of years.

“3. The amount of iron in Earth’s core increased, bringing it closer to the level needed to provide Earth with a strong, enduring magnetic field (the remainder came later) to shield Earth’s future life from deadly cosmic rays and solar X-rays and to prevent the sputtering away of Earth’s atmosphere.

“4. The collision delivered iron and other critical elements to Earth’s core and mantle in just-right ratios to produce long-lasting, continent-building plate tectonics at levels just right for life.

“5. The quality of iron delivered via the collision to Earth’s crust was just right for supporting an abundance of ocean-dwelling phytoplankton that, in turn, supports the entire oceanic food chain and also provides oxygen for advanced terrestrial life.

“6. Earth’s interior was salted with an abundance of long-lasting radioisotopes, the heat from which drives most of Earth’s tectonic activity and volcanism.

“7. Earth’s crust and upper mantle were peppered with just-right quantities of HSEs (iron loving elements)—not so much as to prove poisonous to (later) life but to sustain myriad plants and animals, as well as to allow for the eventual launch and maintenance of global high-technology civilization.

“8. The collision produced a moon with sufficient mass to stabilize Earth’s rotation axis tilt, protecting the planet from rapid and extreme climatic variations.

“9. The resulting Moon also gradually slowed Earth’s rotation rate to a life-sustaining level.”

The concept that home building projects must manifest near-perfect perfection is analogous to the idea that Planet Earth benefits from a divinely designed sequence of events with respect to the formation of Earth’s lunar companion. The story of the Moon reveals not merely a catalog of its physical characteristics but also how the Moon provides for life on Earth. We are mindful of this provision as we observe the glory of the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017.  


Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Total Solar Eclipse: Reflections

As we approach the total solar eclipse “zero hour” on August 21, we have a few days to reflect concerning Earth’s Moon—our planet’s constant companion in space. The event will generate genuine awe, punctuated by audible “oohs” and “aahs.” The glory of the visual spectacle will take precedence on the actual day. Temporarily obscured by the wondrous event is knowledge of the Moon’s history, how it formed, its effect on Earth history, and its influence on our home planet in our day. In each of these knowledge categories, the Moon story provides opportunity for deep and thoughtful contemplation in the days before and after the actual event.

Several decades ago scientists developed a theory, generally accepted today, that the Moon formed from a glancing collision of a fairly large astronomical body with the Earth over 4.5 billion years ago, not long after the formation of Earth as a solid body. It is known as the Giant Impactor theory. The theory has replaced several unlikely earlier speculative proposals concerning the origin of our satellite. Astronomers still debate many details of the modern theory, but some fundamental concepts have become established in the minds of modern theorists. The moon formed from material blown away from the Earth and the impactor itself. There is substantial supporting evidence that the two resulting bodies have similar characteristics. The impactor imparted a fast rotation to the Earth and debris from the collision coalesced into our Moon and solidified.

Almost all the Moon’s visible craters could only have been formed long ago. The Apollo 11 and 12 astronauts returned Moon samples that are 3.5 billion years old. The oldest Moon samples were recovered by Apollo 17 crew members. Their age was 4.5 billion years. Erosion measurements indicate nearly 90% of moon craters formed about 3.9 billion years ago during a period known as the Late Heavy Bombardment (LHB). Tens of thousands of asteroids and comets pummeled the Moon and many other Solar System bodies.

Life sprang up on Earth 700 million years later after the formation of Planet Earth as a solid body. Modern scientists have proposed that emergence and development of life on Earth has been and continues to be strongly influenced by the presence of the Moon. Whenever secular scientists comment about the formation and development of the Solar System, the Earth, the Moon, and the appearance of life on this planet, the word “evolution” is generously salted into the discussion. Most modern scientists use the term evolution to indicate that all processes of solar and planetary formation, and life development are natural. Herein lies a primary disagreement between non-theists and theists and between evolutionists and creationists. Where does naturalism end and creationism begin when we talk about the origins of Solar System bodies and life forms which initially inhabited Planet Earth? This is one of the most significant origins issues we could discuss as we speak of the role of God the Creator in the cosmos.

We concur with concepts of the Big Bang singularity, the “cosmic egg” or “primeval atom” from which all matter originates as proposed by Roman Catholic priest George LeMaitre in 1931. This is one of the true meanings of “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” This inspired vision has been refined and affirmed by scientists for nearly a century. Theologians affirm, “In the beginning God created” ex nihilo, from nothing. God created the matter, time, space, and energy of our cosmos. He also created and put in place “natural” laws which govern operational processes involving physical matter.

When most secular scientists speak of “evolutionary processes” they refer to “natural,” unguided processes. Most origins scientists do not attribute the development of galaxies, the formation of our Solar System, and the appearance of Earth’s Moon, to creative acts of the Judeo-Christian God. Theologically, this an errant concept. There have been many instances of divine creation acts which do not fall into the category of “transcendent” miracles such as the Virgin Birth, the resurrection of Christ, or the feeding of the five thousand. Nevertheless, they are creative miracles. They are impossible without the transformational or sustaining power of the Creator. Some writers describe such actions as “extraordinary providence.” Some theist creationists conceive the formation of our Solar System over billions of years as fully miraculous, to the consternation of some creationists who propose that God could only have spoken the present universe into existence 6000-10000 years ago. 

Many secular scientists do not see anything especially miraculous in the sudden, initial appearance of life on Planet Earth nearly four billion years ago. This life was, from its inception, morphologically simple yet bio-chemically complex—a formula for the description of a transcendent miracle. Evolutionists are untroubled by the enormous difficulties inherent in explaining the appearance of chemically complex Earth life from an evolutionary viewpoint. Our blog has advocated belief in creationism, rather than belief in evolutionism. We link a previous post from 5/27/2008:

Planet Earth was meticulously prepared for life by hundreds of geological events shortly after the Earth appeared as a solid body 4.5 billion years ago. In his recent volume Improbable Planet (2016), astrophysicist Hugh Ross states, “…the Moon’s formation nevertheless represents an intricate series of coincidences that happened to prepare Earth for life—advanced life, especially.” Our Creator is not limited by human time frames. The passage of millions or billions of years does not limit God’s creativity in this cosmos. Here is a link which mentions “extraordinary providence” as we could apply the term to the formation of the Moon and its life-supporting characteristics:

If our readers are blessed to view the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse, especially if they are located in the glory provided by the Moon’s total shadow at mid-day, we suggest they take time to consider the benefits this unique satellite provides Earth dwellers, past and present. In our next post we discuss the benefits of Earth’s “Giant Impactor.”         



Sunday, August 6, 2017

Exceptional Total Solar Eclipse

An eclipse is defined as the partial or total blocking of the light from one celestial body to another celestial body by an intervening body. This definition fits both solar and lunar eclipses. In a solar eclipse the intervening body, the Moon, passes between Earth observers and the sun. In a lunar eclipse the intervening body, the Earth, prevents light of the sun from reaching the Moon. Earth observers are in the middle during a lunar eclipse. In contrast, Earth observers are positioned at one end during a solar eclipse.   

Eclipses are rather common in planetary systems with moons. Our Solar System has several intriguing planets with moon systems. Earth possesses perhaps the most fascinating satellite—one unusually large moon. Among planet/moon systems, it is an anomaly. It is the largest moon in the Solar System relative to the size of its planet. It is just over one fourth the diameter of Earth and about 1/80 the mass of Earth.

The Moon orbits the Earth in a plane similar to the plane of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Their orbits are only about 5º from being coplanar. If the orbits of the bodies were precisely coplanar there would be either a solar or lunar eclipse with each Moon revolution. Many factors affect frequencies and types of eclipses. On average there is a total solar eclipse somewhere on earth every eighteen months. Including the more common partial or annular eclipses, 224 solar eclipses occur on Planet Earth in the 21st century. Only 68 total solar eclipses occur on Earth during this century. There are 230 lunar eclipses during this century with only 85 total lunar eclipses observable from Earth.
Multiple factors affect the frequency of both types of eclipses. The orbits of both the Moon and the Earth are elliptical, not perfect circles. Consequently, distances from the body around which they revolve are constantly changing, along with their orbital configurations, speeds, and apparent sizes. In turn, eclipse frequency, type of eclipse, duration, and other factors are impacted in numerous ways. We marvel at the skill of modern mathematicians who are able to predict future astronomical events accurately to fractions of a second years in advance, taking into account all the known motions of planets and their satellites. Even before the wonders of modern computing, the achievement of ancient mathematicians was astonishing. Encyclopedia Britannica claims “…the successful prediction of eclipses constitutes one of the earliest achievements of the scientific investigation of nature.”

The August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse is exceptional for United States residents. The shadow of the Moon crossing the entire US mainland has not occurred since 1918. A total eclipse of the Moon is many thousands of times more common than a total eclipse of the Sun at any Earth location. Total lunar eclipses occur about once per year and are generally visible to residents on half of the Earth’s surface. In sharp contrast, a total solar eclipse is visible at any given location on Earth only once in 300-400 years on average. Only people within a very narrow band of Earth’s surface are able to view it because by the time it reaches Earth’s surface the moon’s umbra (total shadow) is exceedingly tiny in relation to the size of the planetary sphere. On August 21, 2017 the shadow racing across the US is only about 70 miles wide. The shadow crosses the lower 48 states from the coast of Oregon to the coast of South Carolina in 91 minutes at an average speed of 1691 mph. At no point in this shadow will the spectacular totality last longer than 2 minutes 41 seconds. At the outer edge of the shadow the time of totality diminishes. Twelve million US residents live within this strip. On that day many additional millions who reside outside the path of totality may opt to journey up to a day’s automobile ride in order to view the spectacle. If they remain outside the narrow strip of total darkness they will observe a partial solar eclipse—a much more common event. All US residents located outside the narrow strip on August 21 will observe various degrees of partiality but they miss the “main event.”

Syzygy is an interesting term, not only because of its meaning, but also because of its unique spelling. All of these eclipse phenomena occur because of the alignment of three bodies in space: the Sun, the Earth, and the Moon. Now and again, these three bodies experience syzygy, a colinear configuration. In short, these bodies are directly in line. They are, therefore, joined together to produce an event of emotional and spiritual impact.   

A popular animated NASA graphic shows the tiny shadow of the earth like a small dot (the umbra) zooming west to east across the entire United States along with the very wide path of partiality (the penumbra) encompassing all 50 states. Viewers of the partial solar eclipse are unable to see the sun’s corona, Baily’s beads, or the diamond ring effect. Partial eclipse viewers do not observe a dark, star-filled sky at mid-day, birds singing their evening sunset song, or their morning songs a few minutes later. These events call attention to the glory of the Creator. Total eclipse events “move us deeply and existentially.” We are able to appreciate where we are in the Solar System.