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Eclipses and the Totality of 2017

by  Alana May, M.S. & Branyon May, Ph.D.

On Monday, August 21st, the entire United States was treated to the exciting experience of seeing a solar eclipse, with a total solar eclipse visible to millions along the path of totality from Oregon to South Carolina. This event was a magnificent showing of an alignment between the Earth, Moon, and Sun. At just after 9:00 a.m. PDT the partial eclipse made its debut on the Western shores of Oregon. Shortly before 4:00 p.m. EDT the Moon’s remaining shadow moved off South Carolina’s coastal region. The umbral shadow of totality had a 70-mile wide diameter as it made its way across the country. While the entire continental United States was able to view the eclipse to some degree, only the regions within the 70-mile swath saw a total solar eclipse.

So what causes an eclipse? Although the Sun is physically 400 times larger than the Moon, it is also 400 times farther away. The Moon is approximately 240,000 miles from Earth, while the Sun is 93 million miles away. Yet from our view on Earth, the Sun and the Moon appear to be about the same angular size. This correspondence in apparent size is why we on Earth are able to experience solar eclipses. This type of eclipse (solar) is when the Moon passes exactly through our view toward the Sun, and it blocks the Sun’s light casting a shadow of darkness on Earth during the daytime.

When we consider this amazing event, we find Earth is the only planet where life can view a total solar eclipse. Mars is the only other terrestrial planet with moons. However, they are irregularly shaped and too small to eclipse the Sun. The Gas Giant planets cannot host life to view any possible eclipses. God’s design of the Earth-Moon-Sun system includes the precise correspondence necessary for such a rare and unique event to occur. Humanity has made use of eclipses throughout history to mark time and probe further the details of the Sun and Moon.

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