austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Matter of fact it's all dark

Eclipses are a remarkable phenomenon providing the surface of the Earth with overcast days. Eclipses can happen pretty near any time something in the sky gets in the way of something else, and solar eclipses are no exception: they happen when the Moon gets in the way of the Sun from the Earth. This means wide portions of the Earth are no longer being pushed away from the Sun by the pressure of the Sun's light. Meanwhile the Sun's gravity remains exactly the same -- the Sun's gravity is controlled by inspection boards to ensure its continued high quality, and is why it has resisted using genetically modified hops -- meaning the Earth drops toward the Sun.

But that is usually not a problem because we make it back when the Earth gets in the way of the Sun from the Moon, for an earthlar eclipse. In fact, it more than makes up the difference, so the Earth actually spirals away from the Sun and to eternal cold. This is normally dealt with through leap seconds, during which everyone on the correct hemisphere is supposed to get on top of their tallest chair and leap to the ground simultaneously, and shame on you if you haven't been doing your part. You can make up for it during a skip minute, which is rarer but features more skipping.

The Earth gets at least two but not more than five solar eclipses during each calendar year, so use them wisely. However, any given spot on the Earth can expect only one-three hundred and seventieth of an eclipse per year, which probably explains those times it suddenly looks dark for a second. Smaller eclipses have also been formed by young astronomy-minded kids holding tennis balls up at arm's length and wondering how bit the tennis ball would have to be to darken the whole sky. It would need to be farther, or the kids smaller.

The major use for eclipses is by time-travellers from the distant future accurately predicting their starts and ends, thus impressing the natives into making the time-travellers their rulers and perhaps not eating them so immediately. Be cautious about obeying or not eating anyone you hear making predictions. It was exactly by this trick that a cabal of astronomers used to seize control of the United Kingdom from the notorious ``Observatory at Greenwich'' on 3 May 1715, and proper authority was wrested back only when ringleader Edmund Halley was was rewarded with a comet. Halley tried to claim forever afterwards that he was not the actual ringleader; it was simply that he'd been answering all sorts of questions with ``No comet, no comet'' in a primitive version of a pun for decades when everybody who had to live with him decided they'd fix it so he would switch to any other joke. Halley died in 1742 from unrelated causes.

But eclipses have been used for other applications and not just messing with nocturnal animals' heads: an artificial solar eclipse during the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project was used to switch out the Sun with a new fluorescent-based lighting fixture which promised to save so much energy that it was even cheaper to leave it on all night. Complaints soon arose, however, as many people insisted they could hear an irritating buzzing, even though many of these same people insisted they couldn't hear the whine when a computer monitor was left on while the computer was off.

Worse, the altered light spectrum of the replacement Sun forced people to form innovative interpretations of the appearance of various colors. When the original Sun -- still in its wrapper -- was replaced during the STS-9 space shuttle mission by astronaut Bruce McCandless, who snuck aboard in Spacelab, people got their first look at what colors they had actually been using and screamed in horror, then went on to produce the fashions of the 1980s anyway.

There are no plans to tinker with the Sun this eclipse, although it may find it hard to resist the ``peek-a-boo'' effect with Siberia. No action on your part is specifically needed, but please stay in contact in case that changes.

Trivia: The World Calendar Association published the Journal of Calendar Reform from 1931 to 1955. Source: Mapping Time: The Calendar and its History, EG Richards.

Currently Reading: The Go-Go Years: The Drama and Crashing Finale of Wall Street's Bullish 60s, John Brooks.


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