Shadow Dance of the Eclipses – Handling Light (updated)

Eclipses come in two varieties. The first kind occurs because our moon is the solar system’s odd duck.

Early part of 21 August 2017 solar eclipse

Photo of a projection onto a screen through a telescope of the early part of the 21 Aug 2017 eclipse. Two groups of sunspots are visible—a cluster of three near the center, and a cluster of two near the bottom edge.

For example, it travels a special orbit. Like ballroom choreography that looks simple until close inspection, the Moon only appears to orbit the Earth. In fact, it orbits the Sun. The Earth, 80 times heaver than the Moon, moves steadily on its course about the Sun. But the Moon weaves rhythmically either side of the Earth’s orbit, first outside farther from the Sun, then in front of the Earth, then inside closer to the Sun, and then trailing the Earth. The two dancers interlock gravity arms and sway in 29-day rhythm.

And then it’s big compared to Earth. Even though only the fifth largest out of 181 natural satellites (at last count), it spans more than a quarter of our planet’s diameter. All other moons in the solar system (except Pluto’s moon Charon) swarm like bees about their giant planets. The unique Sun-Earth-Moon relationship creates a curious illusion. The Moon’s diameter and distance from the Earth combine to make it appear almost exactly the same size in the sky as the Sun.

Bird alighting during solar eclipseWhen the Moon comes between us and the Sun, it sometimes casts its shadow on the Earth creating what we call a solar eclipse. The Moon’s shadow blocks our view of the Sun turning day into night. Confused birds stop chirping and head for nests as we glimpse the otherwise invisible upper atmosphere of the Sun.

total lunar eclipseAnd then when the Moon moves outside our orbit, it sometimes passes through the Earth’s shadow creating a lunar eclipse. The bright, full moon darkens, but not completely to black. The Earth’s atmosphere bends sunlight around the globe painting the Moon a deep blood red and revealing the otherwise invisible shadow of the Earth.

But I mentioned that there are two varieties of eclipses. The Sun-Earth-Moon shadow dance produces the first variety on rare, periodic revolutions according to a complex pattern astronomers predict with great accuracy (see for more info). For example, part of the pattern says solar eclipses always happen within about 2 weeks of a lunar eclipse. So for the next two years, we see these eclipses coming up:

Sequence of lunar eclipse shotsEclipses in 2018

  • 31 Jan – lunar eclipse
  • 15 Feb – solar eclipse
  • 13 Jul – solar eclipse
  • 27 Jul – lunar eclipse
  • 11 Aug – solar eclipse

Eclipses in 2019

  •  5 Jan – solar eclipse
  • 20 Jan – lunar eclipse
  •  2 Jul – solar eclipse
  • 16 Jul – lunar eclipse
  • 26 Dec – solar eclipse

The second variety of eclipse occurs much more frequently but works the opposite way. The first hides light with temporary darkness. The second hides darkness with permanent light. A popular song by the David Crowder Band describes what it looks like when they sing of our “… afflictions eclipsed by glory …”. And the Manufacturer’s Operating Handbook—The Bible—tells us that “… light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison …“

Total solar eclipseTo see the first variety of eclipse, we have to go to the right place at the right time. Some people spend large amounts to ensure they’re correctly positioned for the beautiful, but fleeting experience.

To see the second variety of eclipse, we are always in the right place at the right time. It costs us nothing to ensure we receive the transforming, but permanent experience.

Jesus gave us the key to winning the shadow dance when he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”.

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