What Causes a Solar Eclipse, Coincidence or Amphibian?

What Causes a Solar Eclipse, Coincidence or Amphibian?

As we all know, there is a very special celestial event coming to our area on August 21—a total eclipse of the sun. While this date is a certainty, what causes a solar eclipse has been debated for thousands of years.

Current science says that the eclipse can only happen because of an extraordinary coincidence; the size of the sun and moon are almost exactly the same from our earthly perspective. Of course the sun, in reality, is much larger than the moon—400 times to be precise. Coincidentally, the moon is 400 times closer to the earth than the sun, so the sphere of the moon, when aligned, perfectly blocks the sphere of the sun, allowing us to view* the beautiful corona (or aura) of the sun. What are the odds?

Alternatively, for those not inclined to accept bizarre coincidence as fact, A young Irish-American man named James Mooney documented the following explanation from some Cherokee elders on the Qualla Boundary in the late 19th century.

“When the sun or moon is eclipsed, it is because a great frog up in the sky is trying to swallow it. Everybody knows this, even the Creeks and other tribes…Whenever they saw the sun grow dark the people would come together and fire guns and beat the drum, and in a little while this would frighten off the great frog and the sun would be all right again.”

While either story seems to adequately explain the phenomenon, keep in mind that April is National Frog Month.

Here are some other solar eclipse wonders:

  • A total solar eclipse is not noticeable until the Sun is more than 90 percent covered by the Moon. At 99 percent coverage, daytime lighting resembles local twilight.
  • A total eclipse can only happen during a new moon.
  • Light filtering through leaves on trees casts crescent shadows as totality approaches.
  • Local animals and birds often prepare for sleep or behave confusedly during totality.
  • Local temperatures can drop as much as 20 degrees during a total solar eclipse.
  • During totality, the horizon is illuminated in a narrow band of light, because an observer is seeing distant localities not under the direct umbra of the Moon's shadow.

*You have plenty of time to procure eclipse glasses and learn about safe viewing practices before the August eclipse.

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