Eclipse Over Trumpistan
Astronomy has always been another passion of mine. All those heavenly bodies moving around, and of course we inhabit one of them (for now). It’s like a cosmic dance, the music of the spheres. Of all the phenomena of the sky, the most dramatic is a total eclipse of the sun, which happens today. The disk of the moon will exactly cover that of the sun for about two minutes. Sometimes it doesn’t quite cover the sun, and that’s an annular eclipse. The reason for the discrepancy is that the moon’s orbit is slightly elliptical (there will be an annular eclipse in 2019). The moon’s shadow slowly covers the sun until there’s just a tiny sliver left, then darkness. It’s spooky and mystical, those two minutes or so of totality. When the sun begins to emerge from the other side, there’s a bright flash called the diamond ring effect, then the sun continues to climb out of the dragon’s mouth.
I wouldn’t trust those special glasses on sale everywhere. Even Amazon had to recall some of them. Solar filters sold for telescopes or binoculars are fine. You can also view the sun through a welders filter, #12 or higher. Best though, and easiest too, is a simple pin-hole projector. With a thumb tack or push pin, poke a hole in thick paper. Then use it to project the sun’s image onto another piece of white paper. There’s another really cool way to get the same effect, and fortunately you don’t need to be in the path of totality. All you need is the crescent sun, as projected with your pin hole. Look at the shadow of a tree, preferably on a flat surface like a sidewalk. There will be tiny spaces between leaves, which will project dozens of little crescents on the ground. It’s magical, and kids will love it.
If you’re in the path of totality, there are delights aplenty. Something to look for, just in the final 30-30 seconds before totality, when the sun is only a sliver of a disk, are shadowy parallel bands of light and dark that seem to dance and ripple. You may also see them just after totality, following the diamond ring effect. They’re caused by tiny little eddies of air currents that are normally invisible. It’s the same phenomenon that causes stars to twinkle.
It’s such a coincidence that the two bodies are so close to the same size in the sky; it’s tempting to attribute a religious context to it. Science tells us otherwise. When the moon was first formed it was much closer to us, and has been moving away at the rate of several inches a year. Right now it’s gravitationally locked to the Earth, so that it always shows the same face.
I was in the path of totality in March of 1979, but it was clouded out. Still, at the moment of totality a shadow moved across the sky from horizon to horizon in a matter of seconds, it got dark, and the birds stopped singing. A couple minutes later the effect was reversed. Even that was pretty fascinating, so it’s easy to understand people who follow eclipses across the globe from year to year, much like Grateful Dead fans who followed the band from concert to concert. In both cases, it’s about the live performance.
Something struck me as I looked at the path across the U.S. It begins on the coast of Oregon, and the 70 mile width of totality goes through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and finally South Carolina. It passes right through the heart of the Bible Belt. With the exception of western Oregon, it’s all red state territory — Trump country — where people tend to be somewhat science challenged. Trump won 92% of the counties in the path of totality. He won 80% of the evangelical vote nationwide. It’s astonishing that tens of millions of God fearing folks, who attend church regularly, could abandon every single precept of their faith to vote for a psychotic who displays no virtues of any kind. I mean, this guy has no respect for anything. He drives his golf cart right up onto the green, for God’s sake, the sports equivalent of heresy. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that these people wouldn’t be into a homeless, unemployed, dark-skinned Palestinian Jew who wasn’t overly fond of the rich.
A great majority of them believe the Earth is only 6000 years old, and that the sun and all the planets revolve around the Earth. What will they make of this perfectly natural occurrence? Imagine what ancient people, with no knowledge of science, must have thought of this celestial spectacle. It would have seemed the world was ending. They pictured a dragon, or wolf, devouring the sun, then barfing it up later, I suppose. Perhaps among them was an elder of about thirty years of age, who had seen this happen before. What power he could wield with the knowledge he had. He could have demanded all sorts of goodies in order for him to make the sun come back. If he could predict the event beforehand, he could gain even more respect and power. Stonehenge has been found to predict lunar and solar eclipses, which is pretty sophisticated technology for 5000 years ago. Heck, the Earth would have still been in its swaddling clothes.
In Joshua 10:12-13, Joshua said, “Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon,; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed . . . in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.” That’s a pretty impressive feat, and many people who are literalists believe every word as it is written. If such a thing actually were to happen, it would mean that Earth suddenly stopped rotating. And if that were the case, whole mountain ranges and continents would fly off into space, and tsunamis thousands of feet deep moving at thousands of miles per hour, would obliterate everything in their path. There would have been no one left to write the next verse.
Millions of tourists are going to be heading for the path, and causing unimaginable traffic problems. On the other hand, local economies will receive a huge boost, and all in states that are suffering economically. Hotels, restaurants, snack wagons and baristas, people renting out their yards as parking lots, others renting out spare rooms, they’ll all reap benefits. Gift shops will sell eclipse paraphernalia of all various degrees of crapitude.
Cheap special eclipse-viewing glasses will be everywhere, and many were made with profit in mind, not safety. In the couple minutes of totality, many people will unknowingly be frying their retinas, leading to serious vision problems later, or even blindness. The irony is that many of them were already blind well before the eclipse, but either don’t know it or don’t care. They should save their receipts for the inevitable lawsuits that are sure to follow.
I’m more concerned about the evangelicals, though. They’ll know it isn’t a world or dragon that ate the sun, but that ol’ Devil himself. They will likely think the end of the world is at hand. I know — it’s God’s punishment for their sin of voting for Trump. But if they pray real hard, like they’ve never prayed before, maybe the Lord will make the sun shine again. It’s also my hope that some will be moved by the spiritual and emotional intensity of this event, so that they’ll see things from perhaps a more open perspective. Well, I can always hope.