The sun’s diameter is about 400 times greater than the diameter of the moon. The sun is also about 400 times farther away from the earth than the moon. This makes both objects appear to be about the same size when seen from your front yard. Every once in while all three bodies, the sun, moon and earth, line up exactly so the moon is directly between the sun and the earth. This creates a shadow that moves across the earth at over 1500 miles per hour. This is a solar eclipse.
There are two distinct parts of the shadow during an eclipse, the umbra and the penumbra. The last total eclipse in North America occurred on August 21, 2017. The larger shadow, the penumbra, covered all of North and Central America, from Greenland down to Panama. This meant that all of North and Central America were able to see, if they had the proper glasses, the moon at least partially block the light of the sun. The umbra, the smaller, central shadow in the center of the penumbra is only about 60 miles wide. Those who found themselves in the path of the umbra during the total solar eclipse when it traveled from Oregon across the country through South Carolina experienced the moon totally blocking the light of the sun for around 2 minutes. Birds began to roost and sing their nighttime songs, crickets began to chirp and the stars came out. 360 degrees of the horizon looked like a sunrise or sunset. I took my 7-8 classroom to see this eclipse in Oregon in August of 2017 and it was an amazing experience! (There will be another total eclipse coming in April of 2024 traveling through Texas and up toward Maine. Science Field Trip?)
Before solar eclipses were understood, the ancients responded to them with fear and panic. They understood that without the sun, life on earth would end. The death of the sun was the death of life! How relieved they must have been with the light slowly returning so that the sun was once more as it should be, as it always had been; constant, predictable and dependable. With knowledge and understanding we now realize that the darkness of an eclipse is only temporary. The sun will always return and shine again.
It never really goes away, does it? We all have times of darkness, when the light of God’s goodness and mercy seems eclipsed by the nearby troubles and hurts of our lives. All we see is darkness everywhere. This can be a desperate time, when fear and panic can take hold and time seems to crawl ever so slowly. We may wonder if the darkness will ever end. At times like this it is good to remember the temporary nature of a solar eclipse. You see, even though a moon 400 times smaller than the sun can blot out the light for a time, the sun never stopped shining. Soon enough the moon moves out of the way and the sun is seen again in all its glory.
While such understanding doesn’t make the dark any less dark, fear and panic can melt away knowing that the sunlight will soon be felt again.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear. . .” I John 4:18