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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2400

The Great American Eclipse: 21 August 2017

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

On Monday, August 21, those who live in North America are going to witness a grand celestial spectacle, provided that the show is not spoilt by a darkened cloud cover, as that was the case in Britain in 2015.

It is almost 99 years since the people in North Americans saw a total eclipse, across the region; there is no surprise, in this context, why it was dubbed, the Great American Eclipse.

Since it is going to be visible from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean, it is going to be a great event, indeed; the hype is constructive and justifiable.

A solar eclipse takes place when the Moon, the Sun and the Earth are aligned perfectly with the Moon being between its two larger cosmic relatives. Although, the Moon passes through the gap between the Sun and the Earth on regular basis, it does not always lead to solar eclipses, as the perfect alignment is rare, as the heavenly bodies do not move in a single plane.

When the three are perfectly aligned, as in this case, some parts of the Earth do not get sunlight for a short period of time - with the blocked sunlight casting a moving shadow in the same region.

In the animation below, the narrow region in the United States where the eclipse will be visible, is going to be darkened temporarily while the Moon goes between the Earth and the Sun.

eclipse 2017

During a solar eclipse, the shadow of the Moon that falls on the Earth blocks the Sun either partially or fully due to the nature of it. The shadow consists of two parts: umbra, the darker region and penumbra, the relatively lighter region. Those who happen to be in the umbra region experience a total eclipse while those who are in the penumbra region see a partial eclipse.

On Monday, 14 states of the United States are going to be directly under the path of umbra and the lucky ones along this path are going to experience the total solar eclipse. The Americans live in neighbouring states – along the path of penumbra – are going to see a partial eclipse.

eclipse path

The relatively-narrow path of umbra is about 112 km wide and as the above image shows, stretches from the state of Oregon to the state of South Carolina. Those who converge on this region are going to see the total eclipse. The umbra will take about 4 hours to move over these 14 states, while plunging them into darkness, echoing the scene of an eerie twilight, starting at 10:16 PDT and ending at 14:28 PDT.

The eclipse, however, will become visible as early as 09:00 PDT and leave the US at about 04:09 EDT.

The much wider part of the shadow, the penumbra, meanwhile, will cover a region on either side of the path of umbra, providing those who live in those regions to see a partial eclipse. This includes some parts of North America, Africa and Europe.

Although, the partial eclipse will be visible in some parts of Britain, the unpredictable, model-defying weather is going to be the issue in the next few days, which could potentially spoil the show.

Although, celestial phenomena of this kind excite the plenty of folks in this generation, that was not the case a few decades ago, let alone a few centuries ago.

For instance, when an individual in authority died during an eclipse, the subjects stubbornly – sometimes rebelliously – refused to attribute it to mere coincidence. That’s what happened, according to the chronicled English history, the son of William the Conqueror in 1133.

Even Greeks, who were instrumental in making immense contributions to science and mathematics, long believed the onset of a solar eclipse as a bad omen. The Chinese, meanwhile, thought dragon were eating the Sun during eclipses; the Chinese word for an eclipse is a synonym for eating.

For the ancient American Indians, who regarded the celestial bodies as siblings of both sexes, the convergence of them led to a form of disgust, fearing that the latter would be up to something naughty , under the cover of darkness, of course!

In Sri Lanka, meanwhile, we had our own share of mind-boggling experiences, when the country plunged into total darkness in the morning hours on June 20, 1955: when birds were fooled by the impending darkness, there were reports that quite a few women resorted to drinking a juice extracted from sweet flag – wadakaha in Sinhala and vashambu in Tamil – taking the chirping as a signal for an auspicious time in the hope of becoming prettier - ending up in hospitals suffering from serious form of diarrhoea, instead.

Even in the 21st century, however, people have not completely abandoned the myths and superstitions, despite the progress made in science and technology. The distractors of President Trump, for instance, may be hoping for the collapse of his administration, now that Steve Bannon, the chief strategist has been forced to leave the West Wing of the White House and monuments that stood for centuries started coming down unceremoniously across the country – just before the Great American Eclipse.

Whatever the effects, NASA is going the stream the whole eclipse live for over four hours while it crosses the mainland; they can view it through this link.

In short, a solar eclipse still has the potential to petrify or excite us in equal measure, as it has been doing during the passage of time. The trend is not going to die out soon – certainly not before inhabitants of the British Isles – or its neighbours - see the next total solar eclipse, which is not due in Britain until 2090!

It goes without saying that no one should look at the Sun during an eclipse directly for obvious reasons. Eclipse enthusiasts can use a pinhole camera or a bucket of water at impoverished level or buy a moderate-priced, special pair of dark glasses for the purpose; a pair of sunglasses, designer or not, are not recommended, though.

Steps, which implicitly or explicitly lead to beauty enhancement, are neither encouraged nor recommended at all during this special, celestial event – under any circumstances.

- Asian Tribune -

The Great American Eclipse: 21 August 2017
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