Mark your calendars for Monday, August 21, 2017. On that date we who live in the United States will experience the first total solar eclipse to sweep across the entire United States since 1918. It will become one of the biggest news stories of 2017. Where I live in Enid, Oklahoma, the geographical center of the United States, the sun will become 87% obscured at 12:08 pm (Central Time). In other words, when you step out of your office for lunch, you'll experience a weird sensation that "something is not quite right." (*Note: The National Eclipse website sent me a comment with a correction, stating that at 87% obscurity the sun will give more far more light than a full moon at night). Some major cities in the United States like St. Louis, Missouri, Nashville, Tennessee, and Columbia, South Carolina will be in the path of "total eclipse" (100% sun obscurity). It will go dark for at least a couple of minutes during the day in those cities.
Mid-day darkness is a rare occurrence, but it is associated with many great historical events.
1. In 1302 B.C., the Chinese become one of the first to document an epic total eclipse at mid-day, an eclipse that blocked out the sun for six minutes and 25 seconds, causing the Chinese emperor to perform many religious rituals to appease the Sun.
2. The world's first empire, Assyria, was one of the first to record a mid-day solar event, and on that day the people of the capital city of Ashur revolted against their king (763 B.C.)
3. The ancient Jews believed that eclipses signified God's plan to change governments, to remove from power wicked rulers, and to institute a new reign of good among men.
"The sun will be turned into darkness And the moon into blood before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes." (Joel 2:31).
4. A total eclipse of the sun occurred during the crucifixion of Jesus.
"At noon, darkness came over the entire land" (Mark 15:33).5. In 1133 A.D. a total eclipse occurred when King Henry I of England, the son of William the Conqueror, died. A history of this event by William of Malmesbury recounts that "the hideous darkness" agitated the hearts of men.
6. During 1919's epic solar eclipse, the sun vanished for six minutes and 51 seconds, allowing scientists to take photographs of the sun and notice the "bending of star light" as it approached the sun, confirming Einstein's theory of general relativity, which describes gravity as a warping of space-time.
Anticipating events like the solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, while at the same time using a little of your creativity, will allow you to create a memorable experience for those you love. A lunar eclipse is different from a solar eclipse, but in an age when the night sky was the only illumination at night, having "a full moon disappear" at night was almost as frightening as the sun disappearing at mid-day.
Christopher Columbus used his knowledge of an impending lunar eclipse and some personal creativity to save his own life. I close my encouragement regarding Monday, August 21, 2017 with Space.com's story of Christopher Columbus and the lunar eclipse of February 29, 1504:
On Oct. 12, 1492, Columbus came ashore on an island northeast of Cuba, which he later named San Salvador (Holy Savior). Over the next 10 years Columbus would make three more voyages to the "New World." On his fourth and final voyage, while exploring the coast of Central America, Columbus found himself in dire straits.
He left Cádiz, Spain, on May 11, 1502, with the ships Capitana, Gallega, Vizcaína and Santiago de Palos.Unfortunately, thanks to an epidemic of shipworms eating holes in the planking of his fleet, Columbus was forced to abandon two of his ships and finally had to beach his last two caravels on the north coast of an island now known as Jamaica, on June 25, 1503
Initially, the native peoples (Arawak Indians) welcomed the castaways, providing them with food and shelter, but as the days dragged into weeks, tensions mounted. Finally, after being stranded for more than six months, half of Columbus' crew mutinied, robbing and murdering some of the Arawaks, who themselves had grown weary of supplying cassava, corn and fish in exchange for little tin whistles, trinkets, hawk's bells and other trashy goods. With famine now threatening, Columbus formulated a desperate, albeit ingenious plan.
Almanac to the rescue
Coming to the admiral's rescue was Johannes Müller von Königsberg (1436-1476), known by his Latin pseudonym, Regiomontanus. He was a highly regarded German mathematician, astronomer and astrologer. Before his death, Regiomontanus published an almanac containing astronomical tables covering the years 1475-1506.
Regiomontanus'almanac turned out to be of great value, for his astronomical tables provided detailed information about the sun, moon and planets, as well as the more important stars and constellations to navigate by. After it was published, no sailor dared set out without a copy. With its help, explorers were able to leave their customary routes and venture out into the unknown seas in search of new frontiers.
Columbus, of course had a copy of the almanac with him when he was stranded on Jamaica. And he soon discovered from studying its tables that on the evening of Thursday, Feb. 29, 1504, a total lunar eclipse would occur, beginning around the time of moonrise.
Armed with this knowledge three days before the eclipse, Columbus requested a meeting with the Arawak chief and informed him that his Christian god was very angry with his people for no longer supplying him and his men with food. Therefore, he was about to provide a clear sign of his displeasure: Three nights hence, he would all but obliterate the rising full moon, making it appear "inflamed with wrath," which would signify the evils that would soon be inflicted upon all of them.
Bad moon rising!
On the appointed evening, as the sun set in the west and the moon started emerging from beyond the eastern horizon, it was plainly obvious to all that something was terribly wrong. By the time the moon appeared in full view, a small but noticeable dark scallop had been removed from its lower edge.
And, just over an hour later, as evening twilight ended and full darkness descended, the moon indeed exhibited an eerily inflamed and "bloody" appearance: In place of the normally brilliant late winter full moon there now hung a dim red ball in the eastern sky.
According to Columbus' son, Ferdinand, the Arawaks were terrified at this sight and "with great howling and lamentation came running from every direction to the ships laden with provisions and beseeching the admiral to intercede with his god on their behalf." They promised that they would happily cooperate with Columbus and his men if only he would restore the moon back to its normal self. The great explorer told the natives that he would have to retire to confer privately with his god. He then shut himself in his cabin for about 50 minutes.
While in his quarters, Columbus turned an hourglass every half hour to time the various stages of the eclipse based on the calculations provided by Regiomontanus' almanac.
Just moments before the end of the total phase Columbus reappeared, announcing to the Arawaks that his god had pardoned them and would now allow the moon to gradually return. And at that moment, true to Columbus' word, the moon slowly began to reappear, and as it emerged from the Earth's shadow, the grateful Arawaks hurried away. They then kept Columbus and his men well supplied and well fed until a relief caravel from Hispaniola arrived on June 29, 1504. Columbus and his men returned to Spain on Nov. 7.