Solar Eclipse 2010: Still Powerful in Popular Mythology

The moon's shadow on Sunday, if you happen to be sailing the Pacific in the right places, will race along a narrow path starting west of New Zealand, cross French Polynesia and Easter Island, and end, just at local sunset, in the southernmost reaches of Chile and Argentina. Passengers on a ship in the right spot will see the sun blocked out -- a total eclipse -- for a maximum of five minutes and 20 seconds.

As eclipses go, this one is a dud for skywatching enthusiasts. No large cities, and very few small ones, will get to see it as a total eclipse, with that familiar halo of the sun's corona, or glowing atmosphere, around the black disc of the moon. The next total eclipse visible in the lower 48 states of the U.S. will be on Aug. 21, 2017; totality will be visible in a narrow path roughly from Portland, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina.

But astronomy being what it is, scientists can tell you with precision that there will be at least two and no more than five solar eclipses visible somewhere in the world every year. But the path of the moon's shadow is so narrow that for any given spot, a total eclipse is a once-in-a-lifetime event.

If you can hang on until July 16, 2186, Fred Espanek of NASA and his colleagues predict there will be an eclipse along the northern coast of South America with maximum totality of seven minutes and 29 seconds.

Solar Eclipse, and the Myths Surrounding It

Kumar, the astrologer, said he has no quarrel with scientists, but sees his function as helping people get through the complexities of life.

"In today's times, it's not enough to connect people to spirituality, which is essential, but also to offer them practical help to overcome their stresses, their challenges," he said. He claimed to have predicted Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 tsunami, and the outcomes of the last three presidential elections, all months in advance.

"People have gotten a lot of relief -- mental, psychological and practical as well."

Shara, the astrophysicist, sighed. "The stock market may go down Monday whether there's an eclipse or not. And if it crashes six months from now, he can say, 'Well, I was off by a little....'"

"Science should make people feel empowered because they understand the forces at work around them," Shara said. "When it comes to eclipses, we can predict them centuries into the future, and that's a triumph of the human mind."

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