The Eclipse
8 April 2024

The Question as Wende posed it, April 7 10 AM:

Who are you in regard to this approaching moment,
a unique one in space, time and place that will never come again in your lifetime?

What do you make of it as the entire world focuses on such a celestial moment
— the fervor, awe, indifference and inevitable monetization?

Will you bother to pause or not,
and how will your decision leave you feeling about yourself
as you live out your one precious life in this particular place and time,
creature of the cosmos, one among billions of other eyes perhaps turning
upward, outward and inward?

Upon reflection, how has the phenomenon affected you?

* * * * *

What follows is a gathering of materials I encountered in several days of poking about, many of which deserve more analysis and comment than I can unload upon them at the moment. Maybe some new integration will emerge if I begin someplace and follow in more or less chronological order of discovery...

Rivka Galchen's Guide to the Total Solar Eclipse (New Yorker)

Doom-Bringing Solar Eclipses in the World's Religions

* * * * *

I heard this poem read Monday evening: Facts About the Moon (Dorianne Laux, via Maria Popova) and sent it to Conviviants. The first half brought me up short:

The moon is backing away from us
an inch and a half each year. That means
if you're like me and were born
around fifty years ago the moon
was a full six feet closer to the earth.
What's a person supposed to do?
I feel the gray cloud of consternation
travel across my face. I begin thinking
about the moon-lit past, how if you go back
far enough you can imagine the breathtaking
hugeness of the moon, prehistoric
solar eclipses when the moon covered the sun
so completely there was no corona, only
a darkness we had no word for.
And future eclipses will look like this: the moon
a small black pupil in the eye of the sun.
But these are bald facts.
What bothers me most is that someday
the moon will spiral right out of orbit
and all land-based life will die.
The moon keeps the oceans from swallowing
the shores, keeps the electromagnetic fields
in check at the polar ends of the earth.
And please don't tell me
what I already know, that it won't happen
for a long time. I don't care. I'm afraid
of what will happen to the moon.
Forget us. We don't deserve the moon.
Maybe we once did but not now
after all we've done...

On Tuesday morning this paralyzingly obvious thing about the Eclipse occurred to me:

So the Eclipse was REALLY all about the Moon; the Sun wasn't affected, though our perception of the Sun was derailed significantly for a few minutes [it went away and came back...].

The 23 1/2 degree axial tilt of the Earth's axis may be a consequence of the cosmic event (perhaps 4+ billion years ago) that put the Moon into its orbit around the Earth, and the resulting basic annual pulse of seasons is essential to the emergence of Life on Earth —a highly unlikely conjunction, another take on the 3 Body Problem [of which more below]

So I went hunting for Moonlore, a good bit of which is still in contention, not firmly decided, up for grabs:

...When it first formed, the Moon was covered in an ocean of magma. As this ocean cooled and solidified, the less dense layers at the top began crystalizing, forming the Moon's mantle and the crust. Beneath the surface and closer to the Moon's core, however, the more dense layers took longer to crystalize. Those layers were heavy with iron and titanium, and because they were more dense than the layers above them, they sunk deeper into the Moon's interior. As they did that, the mineral-rich, dense layers mixed with the mantle of the Moon, melted, and then returned to the lunar surface as titanium-rich lava flows (which we still see today).

New evidence that the Moon's explosive birth was weirder than we thought (Robbie Gonzalez, 2012)

...The Big Splat story goes like this: 4.6-billion years ago, a Mars-sized body cannoned into our home planet, ejecting vast quantities of debris into Earth's orbit. Over time, this disk of debris came together to form the Moon we know today.

The Big Splat hypothesis has been widely accepted for decades, partly because of elemental evidence. Moon rocks tend to be lacking in elements like sodium, potassium, zinc and lead. These so-called "volatile elements" evaporate faster and dissipate more easily from vaporized rock (the vaporized rock that comes from a cataclysmic planetary collision, for example) than other members of the periodic table, so their absence from lunar samples would make sense in a Big Splat timeline...

Freaky Theory Offers Totally New Explanation of the Moon's Origin (George Dvorsky, 2018)

Realizing that I was pretty hazy about the details of the Moon's behavior and its Terrestrial effects, I pulled from the shelf The Tides (Jonathan White, 2018), and spent the morning repairing my ignorance:

Newton never discovered what gravity was, only how it behaved. (113)

[It was Newton who] ...was able to demonstrate how gravity causes the tides, a theory that in essence holds true today. (115)

...The movements of the Earth and Moon —along with their eccentric yaws, wobbles, precessions, and varying speeds— are too complex for an ordinary person to hold in mind all at once. (115)

...We often forget that the Earth and Moon also circle each other. Locked together by gravity, they spin around a common center... (115)

...Gravity and centrifugal force exactly counteract each other, keeping the Moon and Earth in a stabilized orbit as they spin together through space... The waters directly under the Moon are drawn up by gravity, while on the other side of Earth, the ocean wants to flee, so it bulges outward... The result is two bulges of equal size, one on the side of the Earth facing the Moon and one on the opposite side of the Earth. Each of those bulges is what we experience as high tide... (116)

The Sun's overwhelming mass isn't enough to overcome the fact that it's 93 million miles away. The Moon is only 239,000 miles from Earth. This difference in distance is the reason the Sun's total influence is only half that of the Moon's... the Sun's influence either adds to or subtracts from the Moon's bulges...

When the Sun, Moon, and Earth are aligned (In syzygy) the Moon and Sun are working together, creating a superbulge... spring tide. (120)

Just as the Earth is tilted 23 1/2 degrees from [the equatorial plain]... so the Moon is "tilted" in relation to the Earth... the Moon isn't usually aligned with the Equator but moves north and south of it a month's time it darts like a hummingbird from 28 degrees north to 28 degrees south and back again... each night the Moon rises at a different location on the horizon. (121)

When both the Sun and Moon are north of the Equator, as they often are during Summer and Winter Solstice, diurnal inequality is at its greatest. (122-123)

Thinking about the coordination of Earth, Moon and Sun that makes it possible to calculate eclipses, and tides, for that matter, tugged me into an exploration of the Three-body problem (Physics and Classical Mechanics), the essence of which is that the motion of 3 or more celestial bodies can be a chaotic system. See also Kit Yates, below.

... which called to mind the quite riveting but gore-strewn 3 Body Problem (Netflix series, Wikipedia), and see also What is the three-body problem? The chaotic, cosmic mathematics behind the Netflix TV show (Kit Yates at BBC)

The Netflix series is an adaptation of Lu Cixin's The Three-Body Problem (which is the first book in a trilogy).

* * * * *

The Eclipse came along in the midst of a fascination I've been exploring around the (originally Chinese) trope of The Ten Thousand Things, and I'm thinking that somewhere in that conjunction can be found responses to these parts of Wende's Question:

Who are you in regard to this approaching moment...

What do you make of it, the fervor, awe, indifference and inevitable monetization?...

Upon reflection, how has the phenomenon affected you?

(as usual, Wende's Questions are full of subtleties)

Who I was when I first read the Question was: a skeptic of any significance to what I thought of as a solved celestial mechanics problem, a pooh-pooher of the hype surrounding ! The Eclipse ! and anything to do with it

(after all, eclipses have been predicted accurately for a long time. Edmund Halley's 1715 prediction is often cited as a first, but by ca. 600 BC Mesopotamian mathematicians had worked out the basics from a long record of astronomical observations (written on clay tablets), and Thales of Miletus, says Herodotus, predicted an eclipse on 28 May 585 BC —nicely summarized by How the Ancient Art of Eclipse Prediction Became an Exact Science (Joshua Sokol in Quanta Magazine)

...Halley, an avid reader of ancient texts, had rediscovered and popularized a helpful celestial cycle for thinking about eclipses and the position of the moon in the sky: 6,585 days, or a little more than 18 years. He called this cycle the "Saros," which modern historians view as a mistranslation of a Sumerian symbol that originally meant something like "universe" or "big number."

...imagine the geometry of celestial bodies at the moment of a solar eclipse, when the moon lies directly between the sun and Earth and all three bodies form a neat line. For this to happen, the moon must be a new moon. It must also be at a point where its own tilted orbit around the Earth is plunging through the plane in which the Earth marches through its own orbit around the sun...

and this video links eclipse prediction to the Antikythera Mechanism:

* * * * *

Those of us in or near a narrow strip of North America enjoyed a riveting and world-stopping few minutes of a repeating phenomenon of celestial mechanics, rare enough in time-and-space that it seems marvel-ous to those who experience it. And here are some of the marvelous results:

Jeremy Gray in Maine from PetaPixel (eclipse photos in Katahdin area!)

Watching the Eclipse from the Highest Mountain in Vermont Nick Paumgarten at New Yorker

xkcd's Types of Eclipse Photo

* * * * *

and this doesn't have anything about The Eclipse in it,
but it's as powerful and revelatory as syzygy:

* * * * *

And so to Wende's Upon reflection, how has the phenomenon affected you?

Exploring many readings of the meaning of The Ten Thousand Things has surely colored that affect, and its effect:
...belonging to the province of all things earthly

...all that is material and mundane

...the myriad of phenomena and beings in the universe

...our physical bodies, our worldly duties, and our countless distractions

...the multitude of daily distractions that cloud our minds and clutter our lives

I'm rather surprised to discover that the time I've invested in trying to understand the celestial mechanics of eclipses, and in exploring the history of thousands of years of human minds working on the problem, and my reading of Robert Saltzman
(the essence: awaken to the realization that what you have is NOW. Past and future are ...illusory)
reminds me that we have (collect, curate) evidences of the past, in text, in photographs, in recorded sound, in the lovely illusion of 'moving' images. Our Present Moment is constantly informed by such bits of the past. The STORIES, the NARRATIVES that we construct to EXPLAIN ourselves are works of Art, interpretations of realities/times we are no longer in, but have (quite plastic) memories of. At this point in my life, I savor those moments and vow to continue exploring the magic they contain.

Always and everywhere: what is this?

We weren't near the Totality, but here's my image from Drift Inn:


and if all of the above isn't quite enough, try this Maria Popova poem, read by Nick Cave: