Looking at celestial objects in the skies, it’s easy to believe that they are "painted" on a ceiling that rotates above us. We are separated from the stars and they serve as a backdrop on a grand stage above us.
Patient watchers will notice some changes, the wandering motions of the planets, and the occasional eclipse of the sun or Moon. Sometimes planets move near one another in conjunctions or alignments. With the telescope we can see eclipses on other worlds as occultations or transits of one behind or in front of another.
It is at these times - eclipses, transits, occultations, and conjunctions - that we are aware that the universe is not some distant painted stage. It is in motion and we have a place in it.
A total solar eclipse is the grandest of these immersive experiences. There is a spectacular display in the sky. Next the skinny finger of the Moon's shadow reaches down and touches us. Finally the spectacular solar corona is revealed and the planets and stars in the daylight sky are revealed.
This is a transcendental experience. With knowledge, we move from an observer of the universe, to a profound feeling of our place in it. Without knowledge, it appears to be an apocalyptic event. The animals around us echo our confusion.
The physical effects: temperature, tides, and wind are small, compared to the emotional effects.
I’ve not seen a total eclipse yet. I have seen many partial solar eclipses, lunar eclipses, transits, occultations, and planetary alignments.
My most transcendent experience was a pre-dawn sunrise with the crescent Moon, Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter spread across the sky. I saw the solar system spread out around me and understood where I was. I felt at one with the solar system.
A Perseid Meteor shower in the 1980's gave me an incredible feeling of the earth moving through the meteors. Laying on a blanket in an open field at 7000' in northern Arizona, I saw a meteor every few seconds. The experience is vivid after 30 years and I try to re-experience it every chance I get. Here are seven hours of the 2016 Perseids from Texas:
Observing a complete lunar eclipse let me see the full extent of the earth’s shadow in space. I watched as the Moon moved through it. I was aware of my place between the Moon, the earth, and the sun.
Watching earthlight reflected back from the Moon and the changes in the shadows from craters and mountains, I can experience the earth and Moon together dancing around the sun.
I’m doing everything possible to see the total solar eclipse on August 21. I hope to share it with a hundred million of my nearest neighbors in the universe.
Content created: 2017-08-01 and last modified: 2017-08-03
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