by Larry Vardiman, PhD
One of God’s great celestial events will be displayed in a swath of darkness in the middle of the day across the entire United States this month. A total solar eclipse will move from West to East about 375 miles north of Shasta Bible College, near Salem, Oregon on August 21. If you want to see it first-hand you will need to be in position ready to view it by about 9 o’clock in the morning on August 21. The Oregon State Police have issued an alert that they anticipate the possibility of hundreds of thousands of cars on I5 the day of the eclipse, so if anyone plans to go, they should arrive the day before and depart the day after the eclipse.
A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and the earth, casting a shadow on the earth. The moon completely blocks the solar disk so that only the sun’s outermost layers, the chromosphere and corona, are visible. An observer must be located on the daylight side of the earth and within the darkest, innermost part of the moon’s shadow (called the umbra) to see a total eclipse. Observers outside the umbra but within the outer, lighter shadow (called the penumbra) will see a partial eclipse. The moon’s umbra will trace a narrow path stretching from Lincoln City, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. A NASA map showing the path is available at eclipse2017.nasa.gov/eclipse-maps.
You should never look directly at the sun without proper eye protection since the intense light can permanently damage your eyesight. Sunglasses (even multiple sunglasses stacked together) are not sufficient protection; you must wear special solar viewing glasses to safely observe an eclipse. (NASA lists four manufacturers that currently meet international safety standards for such products at eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety.
If you can’t obtain a pair of proper sunglasses in time for the eclipse, you can use an alternative method. Find a piece of thin cardboard about a foot or so square and punch a small hole in it with a large needle or a small nail. Then hold the cardboard perpendicular to the sunlight about 1 to 3 feet above a large piece of high quality white paper. An image of the sun will show on the paper below with any sunspots present that day and the eclipse moving toward the center of the sun. You may wish to perfect the technique a day or two before so you don’t miss any of the eclipse.
A total eclipse is one piece of evidence that God has designed the planet we call home. A total eclipse showing only the outer fringes of the sun is unique to the earth. The moon appears the same size as the sun during an eclipse. The sun is 400 times further from the earth than the moon and the sun is 400 times larger than the moon. Consequently, the moon just blots out the entire disk of the sun. But, this provides a unique opportunity to study the solar flares, chromosphere, and corona of the sun.
Another piece of evidence that God designed our earth and sun is that the peak intensity of radiation from our sun occurs in exactly the middle of the visible spectrum—the same wavelength that our eyes are most sensitive. Our bodies are also sensitive to other wavelengths such as infrared radiation, which our skin detects as heat, and even longer wave lengths, which our ears detect as sound, but our eyes are our best instruments at detecting the world around us. And our eyes can distinguish colors and light intensities over orders of magnitude at exactly the most intense part of the solar spectrum.
If you get to a location where totality occurs, expect to see some significant affects unique to a solar eclipse. By the way, totality lasts less than three minutes, so be sure to get to your destination at least 15 minutes before totality is expected to start. In fact, the partial eclipse may start up to an hour before totality, so if you want to watch the full event, arrive even earlier. First, the sky will turn dark at totality except for a small ring of light around the sun. You won’t see any features on the surface of the moon in front of you except possibly for a small amount of reflected light from the earth. Stars may be visible away from the sun if your eyes adjust quickly enough to detect low intensities. The air temperature may cool by as much as 20 or 30 degrees. The wind may increase or become gusty. If you are away from traffic and the city, it may become very quiet. Animals and insects may act strangely because they think night has fallen. Listen for a rooster to crow. This could become one of the most unique experiences of your life.
If you can’t travel to a point under the total eclipse in August, you may still be able to enjoy the partial eclipse. It extends for several hundred miles either side of the path of the total eclipse. You can still enjoy watching the moon “eat” into the disk of the sun and then move out again. The light will dim partially and seem like a storm is coming or dusk is approaching. However, the light will simply dim, not change color like the sky does at dusk. When the sun is rising or setting at the beginning or end of day it reddens as the light from the sun travels through a greater amount of atmosphere. However, during an eclipse in the middle of the day the distance through the atmosphere through which the light travels does not change.
If you are really excited about solar eclipses, you may wish to get the full treatment by attending “The Solar Eclipse Seminar and Eclipse Viewing Party” conducted by the Institute for Creation Research at Jefferson Baptist Church in Jefferson, Oregon. It’s about 15 miles South of Salem, Oregon, just off Interstate 5. Dr. James J.S. Johnson and Dr. Jake Hebert will be leading the three-day conference from August 19-21. The complete address and contact information is: Jefferson Baptist Church, 15002 Jefferson Hwy, 99E SE, Jefferson, OR 97352 (541-327-2939).