For the last two months, Americans have been abuzz about the Total Eclipse 2017.
The path of totality moved from South Carolina to Oregon on Monday, with Sedona and the Verde Valley seeing the peak around 10:30 a.m. One could only imagine how our prehistoric ancestors behaved when a total eclipse occurred: The fiery ball in the sky suddenly being “swallowed” by the moon for several minutes in the middle of the day.
To many cultures, it must have seemed like the world was about to end. An eclipse was an integral part of Norse eschatology. Odin, king of the gods, was fated to be killed at Ragnarok by Fenrir the wolf. Fenrir’s son, the warg Sköll, forever chases the chariot of the sun, pulled by the horses Árvakr and Alsvithr, and at the end of the world would finally catch them and eat the sun.
The Aztecs, sun worshippers who notably had advanced mathematics to predict lunar and solar eclipses, believed a solar eclipse and massive earthquake would end the world, so they practiced human sacrifice to “feed” the sun so it would recover in the event of an eclipse.
The 2017 eclipse was expected to be the most watched over as it swept across the continental United States and was subsequently filmed and photographed, then shared on social media. Around the country, Americans gathered in local parks, stadiums and even on street corners to witness the astronomical occurrence with friends and neighbors.
The science of eclipses has been an important part of Western mathematics for more than 2,000 years as Greeks and Romans used their calculations of the sun and moon to predict within minutes the start and finish of an eclipse, then had their calculations proven true as the sun and moon blotted each other out on cue. This went to prove that the heavens were not simply a random roll of celestial spheres played with by the gods, but predictable phenomena which mortal man could determine with near certainty.
In the ancient Greek world, astronomers were revered alongside philosophers, poets and playwrights for their ability to explain their world. Regardless of the implications of our relationship to the grand scale of the universe, reminding us of our connection to the mechanics of stars and planets, eclipses are wondrously surreal experiences.
We hope that all who had a chance to take a few minutes out of their day did so. The next solar eclipse across the United States will take place in 2024 and another, even larger eclipse than this year will take place in 2045. It’s a long time to wait, but well worth it.