Sun Worship

Mar 29, 2006 2:26pm

Wonderful pictures from this morning’s eclipse…slack-jawed children in Ivory Coast…scientists lying on the ground in the Libyan desert to take in the view…frightened horses in Egypt…bemused tourists in Rome. 

Even the most hardened cynics seem awed by the sudden darkness that only comes if you are in the path of a total eclipse.  An astronomer I know says the sky slowly darkens to an odd twilight as the moon slowly moves over the face of the Sun–and then, all of a sudden, as the last of the Sun’s disc disappears, it’s as if a blanket were thrown over the universe.

Hoda Abdel-hamid, our producer from Cairo, drove five hours to be in the path of totality.  During the eclipse, she took a moment to look around.  She said the sky turned dark purple, while the horizon had an orange glow.

"You see that only once in your lifetime maybe," said a man we interviewed in Egypt.  "So it has a spiritual meaning also."

Actually, even though a total eclipse in any particular spot is indeed rare, the laws of orbital mechanics dictate that they happen often.  The number of solar and lunar eclipses per year must be at least two, and no more than seven. 

If you can hold out, the U.S. will get a very convenient eclipse in eleven years, on August 21, 2017.  The path of totality, about 60 miles wide, will make landfall in Oregon, just south of Portland  From there it will curve southwest across the norther Rockies and Nebraska, passing just north of Kansas City and just south of St. Louis, crossing over Nashville before it heads out into the Atlantic off Charleston, S.C. 

The most unusual video so far comes from the Space Station.  They just missed being in the shadow themselves, but they did send pictures of the Moon’s shdow below them, a dark round smudge seeming to swallow part of the Earth’s surface.

A producer watched with me and said, "I can understand why people used to be scared."

A good web link is HERE.

And at NASA, the resident expert on eclipses is Fred Espenak of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland; he has a page on today’s eclipse HERE.

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