Why Solar Eclipses Happen

Why Solar Eclipses?
With a total eclipse of the Sun less than a week away, let’s consider why solar eclipses happen.

A solar eclipse can occur only at the time of the new moon. The Moon appears to us in phases, and the principle phases are new moon, first quarter, full moon, and third (or last) quarter. Those phases are dependent on the relative position of the Sun, Moon, and Earth. The entire sequence of phases takes about 29.5 days, which is a synodic (or lunar) month. The new moon is the time when the Moon and the Sun are on the same side of the Earth.

Obviously, if the Moon is on the side of Earth where the Sun is, we can’t see the Moon at night. It also means we usually can’t see it during the day because the Sun’s brightness hides it except when the Moon passes in front of the Sun. When the Moon only partially blocks the Sun, we see a partial eclipse. When the Moon is precisely aligned with the Sun, we see a total eclipse.

During a total eclipse, the Moon casts a moving shadow over a portion of the Earth. Those who are outside of that shadow can still see a partial eclipse. How much of the Sun is hidden by the Moon depends on how far the viewer is from the shadow. People all over North America will see the eclipse that is coming as a partial eclipse. It will only be total for those who are in the 70-mile-wide path of the shadow that will travel from Oregon to South Carolina.

The fact that the Moon can completely cover the much larger Sun, as it will do in the coming eclipse, has been described as a “marvelous coincidence.” We think God planned it that way. Tomorrow we will tell you why solar eclipses with the Moon exactly covering the Sun are important.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Total Solar Eclipse of 2017

Total Solar Eclipse of 2017
On August 21 people across North America will have a unique opportunity to see a total solar eclipse. It is a very rare event, and especially rare to have so much of the United States involved. The experience itself is worth a considerable drive if you don’t live in a zone of totality.

The Moon is just the right size to cover the the Sun. That means that the shadow of the Moon will fall on a small area of the Earth. Normally the bright photosphere of the Sun overpowers everything else. In a total eclipse of the Sun, the photosphere is covered, and you can see the outer atmosphere of the Sun called the corona. When light from the photosphere shines through a valley on the Moon just before and after totality, a blast of bright light appears to viewers on Earth. It looks like a huge diamond ring.

The sky is not the only place where strange things happen. We enjoyed a partial eclipse when I taught astronomy at Riley High School in South Bend, Indiana. We made a point of telling our 1600-member student body what was going to happen. We set up our telescopes and pin-hole cameras to project the event onto poster board. The principal allowed the whole student body to gather in front of the school.

When the eclipse started, there was the usual teenage horsing around as the Moon began to cover the Sun. All of a sudden the kids got very quiet as it became noticeably darker and you could feel the air become cooler. Dogs started howling as the eclipse progressed. Leaves in the maple tree in front of the school projected small pin-hole images on the sidewalk of the Sun with a chunk missing. We even had a few kids who became disturbed by what was happening. This was not a total solar eclipse, but just a partial eclipse which didn’t cover the entire Sun. Those who live near the path of totality will have the rare experience of seeing complete coverage of the Sun and darkness in the middle of the day.

It is amazing that our solar system is designed in such an incredible way that even high school students with a knowledge of math and astronomy can predict when the eclipse will start, reach totality, and end. The fact that the Moon is just the right size to cover the Sun is remarkable. In the past, humans believed that eclipses were the prognosticators of a coming disaster. For us, the total solar eclipse is simply a wonderful display of the precision and design built into our solar system and the fact that we can understand what God has done by studying the events that we see in the sky.

A word of warning–don’t look at the eclipse with your naked eye. Special eclipse glasses are available. Don’t risk losing your eyesight.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Battle Over Space Bibles

Battle Over Space Bibles
A battle over space Bibles that has been going on in Texas and Oklahoma for years. But I will explain that in a moment.

One of the main thrusts of this ministry is to show people that the Bible is, in fact, the Word of God. The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so the man (or woman) of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). There is a mountain of evidence to support the truth of that statement. However, that does not mean that the bound paper book you have printed in English (or any other language) is sacred even if it has a black cover. It is the message that is sacred, not the physical book.

A group calling itself the Apollo Prayer League placed hundreds of microfilm Bibles on Apollo 13 to go to the Moon. The disaster on Apollo 13 prevented it from landing, and it only orbited the Moon and returned the Bibles to Earth. On the Apollo 14 mission in 1971 astronaut, Edgar Mitchell carried 100 of the Bibles to the surface of the moon and returned with some of them. Through a complicated chain of events that you can read about here, John Stout, a retired NASA chaplain who lived in Texas, gave some of the “ Lunar Bibles” to an author named Carol Mersch who lives in Oklahoma.

Stout’s adopted son brought legal action to get the Bibles back. Through suits and counter-suits the case went all the way to both the Texas and Oklahoma supreme courts. In the meantime by court order, the Bibles were locked up in a Tulsa, Oklahoma, vault. The state of Texas finally withdrew its suit on May 4, 2017.

As I read about the battle over space Bibles, a thought came to mind. If we could get people as excited about the message contained within those books as they are about the physical microfilm books, we might be able to solve some of the world’s problems.

Reference: Austin American-Statesman, May 4, 2017, page B8.
–John N. Clayton © 2017