“ Father! I am afraid! The great creature is eating the sun, we will have no light, and we will all die!!!
“ Do not worry my son, the creature means you no harm. He is after our emperor, but our emperor is a wise man, he has posed an impostor in his place, a person of no value, the creature will take him instead.”
This is a conversation one might have overheard in the Korea of the middle ages. As we know today, what was happening was a total eclipse of the Sun. A very rare occurrence, but one that is just a little bit down the calendar for us, on August 21 2017 to be exact. It is amazing how creative people have always been. When they did not understand a natural; phenomenon, they created a story for it. The Korean family just mentioned thought it was a great dragon coming to remove their emperor. The awful creature closed off the light of the sun so no one would see him. Similarly the Chinese believed it was a a mythical dragon or perhaps dog come to eat the sun. The word for eclipse in Chinese is “ Chih” the verb that translates to “eat”. In ancient Egypt they thought it was a battle between the serpent god and the sun god fighting till the sun god won and the pharaoh was safe. Although most ancient people believed that an eclipse was sign of evil and a harbinger of doom, werewolves and evil spirts, some believed it was a good omen. The early Tahitians believed that the sun was making love to the moon and it was a sign of balance, mystical blessings and rebirth. Many cultures to this day believe that pregnant women are in danger and must be covered with a belt cinched by a red arrowhead if they dare to venture out of doors. Customs like this are still practiced in Mexico and other parts of Latin America.
Today we know that an eclipse is caused by the moon passing directly in front of the sun at right angles to the earth. Eclipses happen all of the time, but they are usually partial. Full eclipses are much more rare, in fact this is the first one since 1979. Additionally its path is going to be entirely, and exclusively over the United States of America. That has not happened since 1776 ! Another reason the year of our nations birth was so remarkable. In fact on August the 21’st the sun will rise as it is being eclipsed, an unbelievable sight for sure. At about 10:15 am local time the good people of Oregon will be the first to experience the totality of the eclipse. It will continue on directly across the United States mainland and amaze and awe millions all across our great land. The path of totality will be mainly across the mid and southern parts of the country traveling through dozens of states until it ends over South Carolina at about 2:30 pm local time.
Even though the moon is going to cover the sun, it is still dangerous to look directly at the sun without eye protection. It is not safe to view through a camera either on your phone or a discreet one. You can watch the reflection of the eclipse on a sheet a paper held obliquely to the sun, or there are plans to construct a viewer easily found on the internet. The best way to view it is through a pair of specially constructed solar viewing or solar eclipse glasses. These also can easily be found on the internet. You can look here to find some of the best ones made. The glasses there are constructed with a pair of high quality safety frames, not cheap cardboard. The lenses are made of glass that will give you the absolute best clarity and protection for viewing the total solar eclipse. Other ‘glasses’ you might find are made for one time use and will almost certainly distort the awesome spectacle. So be safe and enjoy this once in a millennial occurrence. It will truly be awe inspiring!